California growers discriminated against legal immigrants, Justice Department says

A California agricultural company will have to pay $4,000 in fines for engaging in what the Justice Department characterized as discriminatory practices against employees who were legal permanent residents.

In an investigation into Dinuba-based WesPak Inc., which grows, packs and ships citrus, stone fruits and table grapes, the Justice Department concluded Tuesday the company made employees who were legal permanent residents consistently reprove their rights to work in ways others did not.

The settlement, in which WesPak did not admit to wrongdoing, requires the company to halt all discriminatory practices, retrain employees who handle hiring procedures and post signs within the facility that explain employees’ rights. WesPak must pay $4,000 in fines to the U.S. Treasury, but no other fines or penalties will be assessed if officials comply with the terms of the settlement.

The Justice Department found that WesPak had a system that would record the information of employees and trigger the need for reverification of work authorizations by legal permanent residents, when it didn’t do the same for citizens. Legal permanent residents have been granted the right to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely, even if they don’t reach citizenship status.

“(Immigrant and Employee Rights) therefore concluded that Respondent improperly and unlawfully requested more or different documents than were required to establish ongoing work authorization because of citizenship status, including but not limited to demanding new Permanent Resident Cards from three (legal permanent residents) who had already produced documents that had evinced permanent work authorization,” the settlement reads.

The Justice Department said WesPak had engaged in the practice from at least September 2014 to July 2017.

Brian D. Whelan, an attorney for WesPak, said any insinuation the company had admitted wrongdoing was “misleading.”

“Following a very expensive investigation, lasting over 14 months, the Department of Justice offered to end its investigation conditioned on a payment of $4,000.00 along with WesPak, Inc.’s commitment to a continued following of applicable laws governing screening of applicants to work,” Whelan said. “Given the expenses and business distraction the investigation presented, WesPak, Inc. made a decision to settle with the Department of Justice without any admission of wrongdoing or any adjudication of any kind.”

Employers can find information on how to avoid unlawful discrimination based on citizenship status or national origin here. Workers can find information about their rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the INA here. For more information about protections against employment discrimination under the INA, call IER’s worker hotline at 800-255-7688; sign up for a free webinar; email; or visit IER’s English and Spanish websites.

Kate Irby: 202-383-6071, @KateIrby

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Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.