How an Employer’s Threats to Contact Immigration Authorities May Actually Constitute Illegal Employment Discrimination in New York

In recent years, New York has bulked up its laws opposing discrimination based on the target’s immigration status or perceived immigration status. Today, discriminatory employment practices can include things like using immigration status-oriented words or phrases as insults or slurs, or threatening workers with immigration enforcement actions. If you’re someone who has experienced this sort of mistreatment at work, you may have a winning case under the New York State Human Rights Law, the NYCHRL, or both, so don’t delay in reaching out to an experienced New York immigration status discrimination lawyer to discuss your options.

In 2019, New York City declared that any employer that uses the terms “illegal aliens” and “illegals” in a way designed to “demean, humiliate, or offend a person or persons in the workplace” has engaged in employment discrimination in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law. Additionally, an employer’s threats to “call federal immigration authorities” or have the worker deported can constitute unlawful harassment under the NYCHRL when “motivated, in whole or in part, by animus related to the employee’s actual or perceived immigration status and/or national origin.” Those, of course, are not the only ways employers can run afoul of the law’s prohibitions against immigration status discrimination.

As an example, there’s this case from late November, where a Manhattan-based luxury confectioner most famous for its mille crepe cakes agreed to a settlement that ended the U.S. Justice Department’s immigration discrimination case against the employer. The DOJ accused the confectioner of requiring certain employment candidates to go above and beyond what the law requires in terms of documenting their eligibility to work.

Two federal laws prohibit employment discrimination based on immigration status. In addition to the broad anti-discrimination law (Title VII,) there’s also the Immigration and Nationality Act, which contains a section barring certain employment practices. Federal law says that, as part of completing the Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification) process, employment candidates must submit either one document that establishes both identity and work authorization (such as a passport or passport card,) or two documents (one establishing identity and establishing employment authorization.)

The law also says, though, that the worker gets to choose the document(s) they will present and, once they’ve provided sufficient documentation — through whatever combination of documents — to satisfy the law, any additional documentation demands from the employer constitute illegal discrimination.

The confectioner allegedly engaged in this type of discrimination by demanding that all lawful permanent resident candidates present their green cards or else the employer would not consider them. The DOJ’s case against the confectioner — along with a similar 2021 action against a Hauppage-based pharmaceutical manufacturer — are reminders that, simply because you are in this country under “lawful permanent resident” status, you do not necessarily have to give your employer your green card in order to work.

New York State also has officially amended its penal laws on coercion and extortion to include reporting (or threatening to report) someone to federal immigration authorities or causing (or threatening to cause) federal authorities to institute a deportation action.

Deportation/’Call ICE’ Threats as Title VII Violations

Recently, one federal court concluded that kind of conduct also violates Title VII. In that case, which arose in the Southern District of Texas, the worker was a Team Leader employed by a fast food restaurant franchisee. The employee, a Catholic Latina, alleged that she endured religious discrimination, race discrimination, and national origin discrimination.

In ruling against the employer’s motion to dismiss the worker’s Title VII race discrimination claim, the court expressly said that the employee alleged: “several facts that directly relate to discrimination on the basis of race.” This included a coworker threatening to “call the immigration authorities.” That, along with allegations that supervisors called the woman insulting and derogatory names in Spanish, and that coworkers “made comments such as, ‘you’re an immigrant, no one cares what you have to say,’” were enough to give the woman a viable claim for race discrimination in violation of Title VII.

Immigrants and other non-citizens employees often are some of the most vulnerable of all workers. Limitations due to unfamiliarity with American laws and/or with the English language may leave them even more open to abuse or manipulation. If you’re an immigrant worker and you believe you have endured workplace discrimination based on your immigration status (or perceived immigration status,) the diligent New York immigration status discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help you get the justice you deserve. To find out more, contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.

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