Federal Court Finds California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Violated Title VII by Barring U.S. Citizen from Employment

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On Tuesday, July 21, a San Francisco federal court ruled that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) and the California State Personnel Board (“SPB”) violated federal civil rights law by denying employment to Victor Guerrero, now a naturalized U.S. citizen, because he had used an invalid Social Security number (“SSN”) to work while undocumented. Mr. Guerrero, a 15-year resident of Stockton, California, had applied to work as a correctional officer for CDCR in 2011 and 2013. Both times he was disqualified from the job for the same reason – truthfully disclosing during the application process prior use of an invalid SSN.

In a detailed 33-page ruling, U.S. District Judge William Alsup stated, “There is no indication in the record that Guerrero’s misuse of an SSN under his circumstances ‘pose[d] an unacceptable level of risk’ for CDCR.” The Court “d[id] not find anything in the record that would indicate that Guerrero embodied an unqualified or even a less qualified — applicant.” As a result, the Court concluded that “CDCR’s effectively single-issue withhold based on [SSN misuse] amounted to an “arbitrary . . . barrier to employment” in violation of Title VII.”

“At my naturalization ceremony, I was told about the privileges I now had as a U.S. citizen,” said Mr. Guerrero. “And the privilege that was most important to me was the right to apply for any job in the United States. I’m very happy that, after coming here as a child and finally becoming a U.S. citizen, my American dream has finally come true.”

Mr. Guerrero was brought to the United States by his parents at the age of 11. When he turned 15, his parents arranged from him to obtain an invalid SSN in order to work and help support the family. Approximately two years later, Mr. Guerrero’s mother informed him that he was in fact undocumented and that the SSN he was using had been invented. Mr. Guerrero immediately applied to the IRS for and received an individual taxpayer identification number (“ITIN”) in order to legally file his taxes, but continued to use the invented SSN in order to support his family until 2007, when he was able to become a lawful permanent resident.

After finally earning his U.S. citizenship in 2011, Mr. Guerrero applied to be a correctional officer — which was a dream that he had since he was very young. Growing up in a dangerous neighborhood, he wanted to contribute to society by working in law enforcement. But when Mr. Guerrero applied, CDCR told him both time that his use of an invalid SSN in order to work showed that he “fail[ed] to possess the qualifications of [integrity, honesty, and good judgment],” and that his use of a Social Security number “even though he had a taxpayer ID number show[e]d a willful disregard for the law.”

On Tuesday, Judge Alsup determined that CDCR and SPB’s decision to reject Mr. Guerrero (1) had a discriminatory impact on Latinos, who represent over 80 percent of the undocumented population in California, and (2) was not justified by any business necessity.  Specifically, Judge Alsup stated that “CDCR did not undertake an individualized assessment of Guerrero’s case and history in determining his honesty, integrity and good judgment.” The Court also pointed to CDCR’s failure to provide any evidence that prior use of an invalid SSN to work served as a reliable indicator of future job performance. Moreover, the court explicitly acknowledged the difficult position undocumented immigrants often face in the United States. Judge Alsup noted that Mr. Guerrero’s efforts to pay his taxes with an ITIN while undocumented were “commendable,” that he “had little choice but to continue using the invalid SSN as an adult” after he had been given it as a child, and that “[t]he alternative would have been to either stop working or resort to illegal commerce to support his family.”

“This decision is critical for any immigrant who was once undocumented or who is undocumented now and seeks to adjust his or her immigration status in the future. In this case, the Court held that a person’s prior use of an invalid SSN in order to work should not be used as a reason to not hire them,” said Marsha Chien, a staff attorney at The Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center, which represented Mr. Guerrero. “Once immigrants adjust their status, they should be allowed to fully pursue any career, as well as participate in and contribute to American society.”

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