Those who believe non-immigrants or natives were exempt from discrimination will be blown away by this landmark case that is quickly becoming a hotbed for scandal. What began as a conspiracy charge related to the nation’s largest workplace raid on illegal immigrants has now evolved into a second lawsuit filed on behalf of four women who claim discrimination of non-immigrants who applied for jobs in the company. The lawsuit was filed on Friday in the U.S. District Court on grounds that the business gave preferential treatment to Latino applicants and workers, many of whom were illegal immigrants from Mexico. The lawsuit is now headed for a sharp turn as it seeks other affected workers to join in for it to gain class-action status.
In 2008, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents detained nearly 600 illegal immigrants at Howard Industries’ electrical transformer plant in Laurel, Mississippi, in what became the largest raid of its kind in U.S. history. The company pled guilty last week to conspiracy to violate immigration laws and was fined $2.5 million for damages. In their newest lawsuit, one of the plaintiffs, Charlyn Dozier, claims to have applied for a job with Howard Industries every three to six months beginning in 2002, but was not offered a position until after the 2008 raid. The attorney for the plaintiffs, Lisa M. Ross, said there’s more to the case than just preferring illegal immigrants. She believes the company was acting on racial stereotypes that “Latinos work harder than blacks and whites” and that they would be willing to put up with conditions that American workers would have found objectionable. “As a result of bringing in undocumented Latino workers, they were discriminating against blacks and whites,” she added. The lawsuit claims Howard Industries not only knew it was hiring illegal immigrants, but instructed some of them on how to get false identities and concealed the fact that hundreds of their employees were illegal immigrants.
Apparently, jobs at the Howard Industry were considered to be among the most coveted in the area given that the Mississippi Pine Belt region is home to a commercial timber industry and chicken processing plants. The company makes dozens of products from electrical transformers to medical supplies and was considered one of Mississippi’s most successful private companies. The Miami Herald reported that in the days after the raid had taken place, hundreds of people lined up outside the plant to apply for jobs. Even though Howard Industries has repeatedly denied knowing that illegal immigrants worked at the plant, they blamed their former personnel director, Jose Humberto Gonzalez, who also happens to be the only company executive to have been personally charged in the case and who entered a guilty plea in December 2009. In a lengthy statement released after the company pled guilty last week, they said that illegal immigrants used fake papers to circumvent the numerous identification checks the company uses for screening all of its potential employees. But prosecutors refuted that argument by stating that the company knowingly hired illegal immigrants; further attesting to the fact by evidence that the Social Security Administration had told the company that some of the workers had Social Security numbers that were not valid and yet the company failed to acknowledge these warning and continued their behavior.
In light of this evidence, it may appear that the company did in fact partake in a scheme that showed preferential treatment for Latino workers- presumably for their ability to pay them lower wages- and at its core, the company exhibited acts that would amount to reverse-discrimination. Be that as it may, we cannot set ourselves up as judges and will, therefore, anxiously await the future developments of this case.