U.S. citizen files suit against California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for unlawfully barring him from employment

The Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center (“LAS-ELC”) today filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Victor Guerrero, a naturalized American citizen and Stockton resident whose application to work as a correctional officer for the State of California has been twice rejected because of his prior use of an invalid Social Security number (“SSN”).  By filing this case, Mr. Guerrero seeks to vindicate the right of work-authorized job applicants to be fairly considered for employment opportunities without their prior undocumented status being held against them.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, names as defendants the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”), which denied his application, and the State Personnel Board (“SPB”), which upheld Mr. Guerrero’s rejection.

Unable to find gainful employment in their home country, Mr. Guerrero’s parents brought him to the United States at the age of 11.  Mr. Guerrero was only 15 when he was given a false SSN and was asked to contribute to his struggling family’s income.  He was completely unaware that the SSN was not valid, or even that he was undocumented, until he was 17.  As soon as he discovered this, Mr. Guerrero promptly obtained an individual tax identification number from the IRS in order to pay his taxes and correctly report his wages.  Likewise, as soon as he received his own SSN, he never again used the false SSN.

After Mr. Guerrero became a U.S. citizen/legalized his status in 2007, he applied for a job as a correctional officer with CDCR in August 2011, and passed the Department’s written and physical examinations.  But after fully disclosing to CDCR that he had once used an invented SSN, and explaining the circumstances under which he had done so, CDCR deemed him ineligible for the Correctional Officer position, stating that he “lack[ed] honesty, integrity, and good judgment.”

Because it had always been his ambition to be a correctional officer, Mr. Guerrero reapplied for the position in May 2013.  Again, he passed all of the required examinations; again, his application was denied for the same stated reason.

“I prepared for years for this position by learning English, getting my Associate’s Degree, and preparing for all the required exams”, said Mr. Guerrero.  “To be denied at the door even though I am a U.S. Citizen and am fully qualified for the job was devastating.  I only want the opportunity to serve my community and support my family.  Those who are legally authorized to work should be able to do so regardless of their race, accent, or the country they come from.”

The complaint in the case, Guerrero v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and State Personnel Board, alleges that both CDCR’s refusal to deem Mr. Guerrero eligible to serve as a correctional officer and SPB’s upholding of the rejection had no basis in state law.  In addition, the lawsuit alleges that the agencies’ practice of denying employment opportunities on that basis unfairly discriminates against persons of Hispanic national origin.

“As greater numbers of formerly undocumented individuals obtain legal authorization to work, it is imperative that they not be kept from doing so by employers who aim to weed them out because of their ethnic or national origin,” said Marsha Chien, an attorney with LAS-ELC who represents Mr. Guerrero.  “If discrimination like this is allowed to stand, millions of hard working people who are legally allowed to work in the U.S. will be left without the means to support themselves and contribute to our economy.”

Among the individuals the outcome of this case would impact are DREAMers and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, those who came to the United States undocumented as children and have obtained work authorization and valid SSNs.  If this kind of discrimination is allowed to stand, they too could be precluded from employment like Mr. Guerrero.  This would defeat the principal goal of DACA, which was instituted last year by President Obama to allow certain undocumented young people to stay in the U.S. and work legally while they wait for a more permanent pathway to citizenship.

“Like many undocumented young immigrants who consider the United States their home country, Mr. Guerrero should be able to pursue his career based on skills and merit and not on his previous immigration status”, said Krsna Avila from Educators for Fair Consideration, an organization which assists low-income immigrant students in their pursuit of a college education.  “It is imperative that, as a U.S. citizen, he is able to fully participate in and contribute to U.S. society.”

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