Working for Justice

Q&A with Katie Lamm

Posted November 10th, 2015 by in Employment Discrimination.

Katie Lamm Sanford Heisler KimpelBefore my friend Katie Lamm was a Trial Attorney in the Department of Justice, we worked in adjoining offices at Sanford Heisler.  I miss working with her and was excited to learn more about her current work.  Katie works in the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices in the Civil Rights Division.  Seriously – I’m suspicious all that fits on a business card.

Kate

Your office with the very long name – what does it do?

Katie

We engage in investigations, enforcement, and outreach for immigration-related unfair employment practices.

As a general matter, employers cannot discriminate against work-authorized people because they are, or are not, citizens.  Additionally, as long as workers are authorized to work in the United States, employers cannot discriminate against them on the basis of the specific type of work authorization documents they have.  For example, employers generally cannot refuse to hire or create additional barriers to proving work authorization for those who are refugees or who have asylum, or any of the dozens of other categories of work authorization.

Kate

Let’s start with investigations – can you talk about that?

Katie

We investigate charges of discrimination filed by community members, and we independently investigate some employers.  We interview people and review documents to determine whether the employer is discriminating on the basis of citizenship or immigration status, or in the process of verifying people’s work authorization, or if they have a pattern and practice of unfair employment practices.

Kate

What’s an example of an illegal pattern and practice?

Katie

Employers cannot refuse to hire people who are authorized to work in the United States, because of their citizenship status.  Some employers, for example, may have a company policy or a job posting that they will only hire U.S. citizens, or that they prefer one type of work-authorized status over another.  That is often illegal.

Kate

The law also prevents employers from hiring certain people for certain jobs on the basis of work-authorization status, right?  Do you think some employers may be violating the law out of an overabundance of caution?

Katie

Some employers are uneducated about the law and may violate it for that reason.  Also, the law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of work-authorization status was enacted in part to prevent the situation you’re describing.  At the same time Congress enacted laws requiring employers to verify that employees are authorized to work in the United States, they passed laws that prevent discrimination against those who are.

Kate

Can you talk about your role in enforcement?

Katie

If we determine through our investigation that there has been a violation of the law, we will either settle with the employer or file and litigate a lawsuit.

Kate

What do these settlements look like?  In other words, what do employers who have violated the law have to do to avoid having a lawsuit filed against them?

Katie

We require a robust package of remedies from the employers that we settle with.  Settlements often include civil monetary penalties, back pay for affected workers, government monitoring, additional training, and requirements that the employers put up posters clearly stating workers’ rights under the law.  All of our settlement agreements are available on our website.

Kate

Blogger’s Note:  I checked out the settlement agreements and was surprised by how many large and well-known employers were included, including Abercrombie, Hilton, IBM, and Macy’s.  

Could you talk about your outreach efforts?  I can imagine that it is a very important part of your work, particularly if some violations are caused by not knowing what the law requires.

Katie

Absolutely.  We do webinars that are free and open to the public.  We also have onsite training sessions for employers, workers, and people who advocate for workers’ rights.  A critical component of our outreach is our hotline.  Through the hotline, workers and employers can call our office and have their questions answered or report violations – anonymously if they prefer.  We explain the laws and offer guidance to employers and employees on how to comply.  With the caller’s permission, we can also engage in informal intervention.  We’re sometimes able to resolve the issue just by explaining it to the employer so it understands its obligations under the law.

For example, last week I talked with a woman who called the hotline to explain that she was fired from her job the day after she started because she had not produced a certain immigration document required by her employer (a new Green Card), even though she had provided other documents that proved she was authorized to work in the US (a Driver’s License and a Social Security Card).  I called the employer and explained what the law says—that employees can provide the documents of their choosing to show that they are work authorized—and the woman was hired back to her position.

* * * * *

As an attorney who represents employers who have suffered discrimination in the workplace, I find the intersection of immigration and employment laws very interesting.  Particularly given the recent hostility to immigration that we’ve been hearing from political candidates, I find it refreshing to talk with Katie about the great work that the government does ensuring employers are not discriminating against anyone authorized to work in the United States.

Kate Mueting

Kate Mueting

Kate Mueting is a Partner in the Washington, DC office of Sanford Heisler Sharp. Ms. Mueting is responsible for managing much of the KPMG gender discrimination litigation and also represents employees in other individual and class discrimination and overtime cases. Learn More

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