On October 19, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices ("OSC") announced that Catholic Healthcare West ("CHW"), the eighth largest hospital provider in the nation, agreed to pay $257,000 in civil penalties to settle claims that it engaged in citizenship status discrimination. This is the largest monetary civil penalty ever to be paid by an employer to settle such a discrimination claim.

In addition, CHW has agreed to pay $1,000 in back wages to the employee who filed the claim and to conduct a comprehensive review of past I-9 practices at each of its 41 facilities, in an effort to identify and compensate any other employees who were forced to over-document their work authorization and, as a result, lost wages. CHW also will train its recruitment staff not to discriminate based on citizenship and will review and update its current hiring policies and procedures to ensure they are in compliance with relevant U.S. immigration and other laws. To ensure compliance, CHW must provide periodic reports to the OSC for the next three years.

Employers seeking to comply with their legal obligations under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 ("IRCA") face increasingly difficult challenges in the current worksite enforcement climate. They must be careful to satisfy all Form I-9 requirements or risk substantial civil fines, and even criminal prosecution, for noncompliance. However, the IRCA also contains anti-discrimination provisions that, among other things, make it illegal to impose different or more stringent employment eligibility verification standards based on an individual's citizenship status. According to the Department of Justice, CHW required non-citizen and naturalized U.S. citizen (non-native born) new hires to provide more work authorization documents than required by the IRCA, while allowing native-born U.S. citizens to provide only those documents that the IRCA actually requires for the Form I-9 employment verification process.

This case is another poignant reminder of how important it is for all employers to train their human resources personnel on how to properly implement their Form I-9 process so that it secures the documentation that the IRCA requires, without running afoul of the IRCA's anti-discrimination provisions.