Reverse discrimination is defined as the practice or policy of favoring individuals belonging to groups known to have been discriminated against previously.  Reverse discrimination is often alleged, but difficult to prove. A recent class action settlement, however, has revealed that a documented preference for hiring Latino workers who are ineligible to work in the U.S. may not only make an employer liable for immigration violations, but also reverse discrimination.

On August 20, 2012, Howard Industries, Inc., one of Mississippi’s largest employers, agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle a class action suit claiming the company showed favoritism to Latino employees and discriminated against all non-Latino employees.  The settlement, if approved, would certify a class of all black and non-Hispanic white applicants who applied for work at Howard between January 1, 2003, and August 25, 2008, but were not hired.

The suit was filed after Howard pleaded guilty in February 2011 to charges that it concealed undocumented workers from federal immigration authorities.  The charges were the result of an August 2008 federal immigration raid of Howard’s Laurel, Mississippi, plant in which agents found 592 illegal immigrants working there.  Howard agreed to a $2.5 million fine and a year of probation after pleading guilty to violating immigration law.   

A day after Howard’s guilty plea, four black women filed the class action suit, alleging that they repeatedly were denied jobs at the company’s Laurel plant and that Howard “refused to hire non-Latino job applicants, or considered their applications with disfavor, due to their race.”  The plaintiffs claimed they were denied employment despite passing examinations and drug tests required by the company, and all four were hired shortly after the August 2008 immigration raid.

“Howard Industries devised, implemented, carried out, and controlled an employment policy whereby Latino job applicants, all or nearly all being undocumented … immigrants, were given preferential treatment in hiring,” the complaint said.  Court documents involving the company’s alleged criminal immigration violations alleged that Howard’s former human resources director routinely hired undocumented workers, telling them they would be warned if immigration agents were coming for inspection.