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'Stringent' Document Demand Results in Bias Claim

July 14, 2006
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Related Topics: Immigration, Discrimination and EEOC Compliance, Featured Article
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When hired by Elite Logistics Inc. of Kansas City, Kansas, in August 2001, Ramon Zamora presented an alien registration card, his Social Security card and a signed I-9 form. He had become a legal permanent resident in 1987. In 2002, learning that the INS might inspect its premises, Elite checked and found problems with the Social Security numbers of 35 to 40 employees, including Zamora.

    On May 10, 2002, Zamora's supervisor gave him 10 days to provide documentation to confirm that he was authorized to work in the U.S. On May 22, Zamora was suspended. The same day, Zamora gave Elite an INS naturalization application and a Social Security Administration earnings record, but there remained a question because the Social Security number had been used by someone else. When Elite finally offered to reinstate Zamora, he demanded an apology, which the company was unwilling to give. He was then terminated.

    After Zamora filed a lawsuit, alleging that his termination violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, a U.S. district court dismissed his claims. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver held that Zamora's claims could proceed to trial. Given that Zamora had provided the information "a mere" nine months before and had provided his naturalization certificate the day he was suspended, and that his supervisor told him, "Just get the hell out of here" when asked to apologize, "a jury considering the entire context could determine that [there] was evidence of bias." Zamora v. Elite Logistics Inc., 10th Cir., No. 04-3205 (6/5/06).

    Impact: Employers are advised to afford employees reasonable opportunity to correct discrepancies in their employment eligibility documentation when questions arise.

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