Washington, DC - The Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it reached a settlement with Ascension Health Alliance (Ascension), a Missouri-based health care organization with more than 2,600 sites – including 146 hospitals and more than 40 senior living facilities – in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
The settlement resolves the department’s claims that Ascension violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) when it discriminated against work-authorized non-U.S. citizens because of their citizenship status by requesting more or different documents than necessary when attempting to reverify their continued work authorization.
Based on its investigation, the department determined that Ascension automatically requested that its non-U.S. citizen employees present new documents to prove their continued work authorization, even in situations where it was not required. Ascension utilized a customized employment eligibility verification software program to electronically complete the Form I-9 and track the expiration dates of non-U.S. citizen employee documents. The investigation found that Ascension improperly programmed the software to send automated e-mails requesting proof of continued work authorization to all non-U.S. citizen employees, including U.S. nationals, lawful permanent residents, asylees and refugees, close to the expiration date of the documents they provided when completing the Form I-9. These non-U.S. citizen employees often presented documents that did not require reverification of employment eligibility. In some instances after sending these e-mails, Ascension further required non-U.S. citizen employees to present new documents in order to continue working. In contrast, Ascension did not program the software to send e-mails to U.S. citizens and therefore did not notify U.S. citizens near the expiration of their documents.
“Employers are reminded that while software programs may seem efficient, there is still a responsibility to ensure that programming decisions do not result in discrimination,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This settlement makes clear that the Justice Department will vigorously enforce federal civil rights laws and hold employers accountable if their software results in unlawful discrimination.”
Federal law allows all work-authorized individuals, regardless of citizenship status, to choose which valid, legally acceptable documentation to present to demonstrate their identity and authorization to work in the United States. Many non-U.S. citizens, including lawful permanent residents, refugees, and asylees, among others, have work authorization that does not expire, and are eligible for several of the same types of documents as U.S. citizens (such as driver’s licenses and unrestricted Social Security cards) to prove their work authorization. The INA’s anti-discrimination provision prohibits employers from requesting more or different documents than necessary to prove work authorization based on employees’ citizenship, immigration status, or national origin.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Ascension will pay the United States a civil penalty of $84,832.00. Additionally, Ascension will train its employees on the requirements of the INA’s anti-discrimination provision, including an IER-provided training, and be subject to monitoring for a three-year period to ensure the company is complying with the agreement.
The Civil Rights Division’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA. The statute prohibits citizenship or immigration status and national origin discrimination in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee; unfair documentary practices; and retaliation and intimidation.