A class action lawsuit accuses insurer Northwestern Mutual of illegally rejecting qualified non-U.S. citizen job candidates without permanent resident visas, a legal team of Outten & Golden LLP and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) announced today.
Filed in New York federal court, the first-impression alienage discrimination lawsuit alleges that Northwestern Mutual blocked Ruben Juarez, a 25-year-old honors college graduate, from receiving a financial representative internship in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.
A resident of Yonkers, N.Y., Mr. Juarez graduated summa cum laude from Lehman College, a liberal arts college within the City University of New York, with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting in May. He is authorized to work in the U.S. through DACA, the federal government’s immigration program for undocumented youth created by Executive Order of President Obama, through which he obtained a Social Security number and a work permit.
Mr. Juarez is represented by Adam T. Klein, Ossai Miazad, Lewis M. Steel, and Michael N. Litrownik, of Outten & Golden LLP, in New York, and Thomas A. Saenz, Victor Viramontes and Maribel Hernández Rivera, of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, of Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
In June 2012, President Obama announced that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would no longer deport certain young immigrants under DACA. DACA’s purpose, as explained by the president, is to “[stop] expel[ling] talented young people, who … [have] been raised as Americans; understand themselves to be part of this country … [and] who want to staff our labs, or start new businesses, or defend our country.”
In September 2012, Mr. Juarez applied for and was granted DACA status the following month. He also was granted a Social Security number. As of Feb. 6, 2014, the federal government had approved more than 500,000 requests for DACA.
On Oct. 6, 2013, a Northwestern Mutual recruiter invited Mr. Juarez to an information session at the company’s offices in Stamford, Connecticut. On Dec. 11, 2013, Mr. Juarez was interviewed and Northwestern Mutual expressed strong interest in hiring him. The company asked Mr. Juarez for verification documents. He provided a valid federal Employment Authorization Document (EAD) work permit and his Social Security number. A company representative then asked Mr. Juarez whether he had a “green card” or whether he was a U.S. citizen. Mr. Juarez responded that he had DACA status and an EAD and explained that he was authorized to legally work in the United States.
When Northwestern Mutual learned that Mr. Juarez was not a U.S. citizen and did not have a green card, it blocked him from receiving a job offer and informed him that he did not meet their immigration status requirement, the lawsuit asserts.
Adam T. Klein, of Outten & Golden, said, “Northwestern Mutual recognized that Ruben Juarez is an extraordinary prospective hire with an exemplary record and a promising future, but the company’s hiring policies and human resource personnel do not comply with federal law. We hope this lawsuit prompts necessary policy changes at Northwestern Mutual.”
Victor Viramontes, of MALDEF, said, “This lawsuit should serve as a warning that employers cannot pick and choose which verification documents or residency histories they will accept from a prospective employees who are otherwise excellent employment candidates and meet their obligations under the law.”
Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF, said, “With its wrongheaded hiring restrictions, Northwestern Mutual has not only cut itself off from some of the most entrepreneurial potential agents available, but has plainly and publicly violated the law in disqualifying work-authorized immigrants from joining the company. The right to contract free of irrational bias and discrimination is a bedrock principle of American law.”
The legal team for Mr. Juarez will seek to have the lawsuit certified as a class action to include persons living in the U.S. who were legally authorized but denied the right to work at Northwestern Mutual since July 9, 2010. The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment that the company’s hiring practices are unlawful, back pay and damages, court costs, and attorneys’ fees.
42 U.S.C. § 1981 guarantees to persons in the United States the right to enter into contracts. The statute was passed right after the end of the Civil War, and lay dormant until the 20th century because the Supreme Court had ruled the civil rights acts passed by the Reconstruction era Congress applied only to public, rather than private acts.
The case is “Ruben Juarez, et al. v. The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Inc.,” Case No. 14-cv-5107 in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York. More information about the case is available at http://northwesternmutualdiscrimination.com.