The U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday it reached a settlement agreement with Panda Restaurant Group Inc., a chain of more than 1,800 Chinese-cuisine restaurants the DOJ accuses of discriminating against non-U.S. citizens in its hiring practices.
The deal resolves the department’s investigation into whether Panda Express discriminated against non-U.S. citizens in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act, or INA, when verifying employees’ permission to work, according to a DOJ press release.
According to the DOJ investigation, Panda Express “unnecessarily required lawful permanent resident workers to re-establish their work authorization” when their green cards expired, “while not making similar requests to U.S. citizen workers when their documents expired.”
It was not clear from the press release what “documents” a U.S. citizen would have that could expire and need to be re-verified. WND called and emailed the DOJ press office Wednesday and did not get a return call.
The investigation also concluded that Panda Express “routinely required other non-U.S. citizen workers to produce immigration documents to reverify their ongoing work authorization despite evidence they had already provided sufficient documentation.”
The anti-discrimination provision of the INA prohibits such requests for documents when based on an employee’s citizenship status or national origin, according to the DOJ release.
Under the settlement, Panda Express will pay a civil penalty of $400,000 to the United States, establish a $200,000 back-pay fund to compensate workers who lost wages due to the company’s practices, train its human resources personnel on the requirements of the INA’s anti-discrimination provision, and be subject to departmental monitoring and reporting requirements.
“Employers should ensure that their reverification practices comply with laws that protect workers against discrimination,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.
Essentially, Panda Express was being “too careful” in its quest to make sure it did not employ illegal aliens, said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington.
Just as the Obama Justice Department went after municipalities that rejected mosque projects, it similarly threatened and bullied employers who were insistent upon making sure they did not hire illegals.
“Yes, believe it or not, that’s exactly what was happening,” Vaughan told WND. “It’s important to combat discriminatory practices, but the Obama administration used this office to intimidate employers and to try to scare them off asking too many questions of workers that might lead to discovery of illegal unauthorized workers trying to thwart the screening process.”
Vaughn said it was the Obama administration’s “idea of worksite enforcement – going after employers trying to do the right thing, instead of employers who routinely and flagrantly were hiring illegal workers.”
“I expect that going forward, the Trump administration will restore this office to its useful purpose of protecting Americans as well as legal immigrants from discriminatory hiring practices,” she said.
“That should be the top priority of this office.”
Work-authorized, non-U.S. citizens who lost work at Panda Express between May 31, 2014, and June 28, 2017, due to Panda Express’ documentary practices may be eligible for back pay for the wages they would have earned. For more information, the DOJ asks workers to email [email protected]
The division’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER), formerly known as the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA. The statute prohibits, among other things, citizenship, immigration status and national origin discrimination in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee; unfair documentary practices; retaliation; and intimidation.