- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

The Supreme Court yesterday let stand a lower court ruling that a California company could not inquire about the immigration status of a group of Hispanic and Southeast Asian women who filed a lawsuit against the firm for job discrimination.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, in an opinion by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, had agreed with a federal magistrate who barred the questioning, saying many of the millions of illegal aliens now in the country were reluctant to report discriminatory employment practices.

“Granting employers the right to inquire into workers’ immigration status in cases like this would allow them to raise implicitly the threat of deportation and criminal prosecution every time a worker, documented or undocumented, reports illegal practices or files a Title VII action,” wrote Judge Reinhardt, named to the bench in 1980 by President Carter.

Title VII federal law bars discrimination based on national origin.

Martha Rivera and 22 other aliens at Nibco Inc., which produces valves, fittings and other piping products, sued the company in 1998 for discrimination after it required them to take an English-only job skills test at its Fresno, Calif., plant. After performing poorly, the workers were demoted, transferred and later fired.

The workers had obtained right-to-sue letters from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. They sought reinstatement, back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, as well as an order enjoining Nibco from continuing its English-language testing policy.

During Mrs. Rivera’s deposition, Nibco attorneys asked where she was married and where she was born. Although Mrs. Rivera had specified she was of “Mexican ancestry” in her answers to interrogatories, her attorney instructed her not to answer any further questions pertaining to her immigration status. The workers then terminated the deposition and filed for a protective order against further questions on their immigration status.

The workers said their status had been verified at the time of hiring, that further questioning was not relevant and that they would have a chilling effect on their pursuit of their workplace rights.

The Supreme Court also:

• Ruled 7-2 to eliminate some secrecy by requiring the disclosure of factual recommendations in U.S. Tax Court cases.

• Voted 5-3 to limit federal judges’ sentencing power, ruling judges may examine only plea agreements or admissions regarding prior convictions, not police reports or other evidence, when adding prison time.

• Ruled 8-1 that two Ohio prison inmates may file civil rights complaints to get parole hearings denied them by the state.

• Agreed to consider whether Volvo Trucks North America Inc.’s wholesale-pricing policies discriminated against an Arkansas truck retailer.

• Declined to consider whether a black truck driver accused in the deaths of 19 illegal aliens was improperly singled out for a potential death sentence because of his race.

• Said it will decide whether two Arizona miners may sue for injuries after a roof collapse at a copper mine that left them paralyzed.

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