WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice has reached a settlement with Farmland Foods Inc. resolving allegations it engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination by imposing unnecessary and excessive documentary requirements on non-US citizens and foreign-born US citizens when establishing their authority to work in the US.

A subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc., Farmland Foods is based in Kansas City, Mo. The settlement resolves the lawsuit between the US and Farmland filed in June 2011.

The department said that in addition to ending its impermissible document requests and modifying its employment eligibility verification process, Farmland has agreed to pay $290,400 in civil penalties, the highest civil penalty paid through settlement since enactment of the INA’s anti-discrimination provision in 1986. Farmland also agreed to monitoring and reporting provisions, as well as training for their human resources personnel.

Initiated by the Civil Rights Division’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices, the lawsuit was based on an investigation revealing Farmland required all newly hired non-US citizens and some foreign-born US citizens at its Monmouth, Ill. plant to present specific and, in many cases, extra work-authorization documents beyond those required by federal law.

In the case of non-US citizens, Farmland required the presentation of a specific work-authorization document issued by the Department of Homeland Security, such as a permanent resident card or an employment authorization document, rather than allowing the employee to choose which document(s) to present from the list of acceptable documents on the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9.

Farmland also required additional work authorization documents, generally by requiring social security cards, even when employees had already produced other documents establishing work authority. In the case of foreign-born naturalized US citizens, Farmland sometimes required evidence of citizenship, such as certificates of naturalization or US passports, even when those individuals had other means of proving their work authority. Farmland’s demand for specific or excessive documents to establish work authority violated the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the DOJ claims.

An emailed statement from a Smithfield official stated: “Our mission to help our customers feed their families with high-quality, wholesome food is paramount. This commitment begins with our employees, which is why the screening process in which we engage prior to hiring is so thorough.
Foreign-born employees are a key part of Farmland’s workforce and contribute on a daily basis to its success,” the statement said.

The company said it attempts to make the application and employment process for foreign-born workers as easy as possible, while complying with US immigration laws.

“All of our plants are members of E-Verify, a voluntary, Internet-based program run by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to help determine employment eligibility,” the statement continued. “While we do everything we can to ensure the integrity of our work force, we and other employers face significant challenges in determining the eligibility of employees due, in part, to identity theft and the availability of high-quality forged documents that allow undocumented workers to thwart even the best hiring practices and skirt the laws.”