Discrimination Lurks in University Hiring Platforms 

July 6, 2022 by Reece Nations
Discrimination Lurks in University Hiring Platforms 
(Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice is shedding light on the growing trend of discrimination toward non–U.S. citizens on university job recruitment platforms after landing a score of settlements.

DOJ signed 16 settlement agreements requiring private employers to pay a total of $832,944 in civil penalties. The relevant companies were found to have posted job openings excluding non–U.S. citizens on an online recruitment platform operated by the Georgia Institute of Technology, the department announced last week. Several of the employers posted discriminatory advertisements on other universities’ platforms, and one posted as many as 74 on Georgia Tech’s platform alone.

“Unlawful hiring discrimination based on citizenship or immigration status is a widespread problem across higher education in the United States, putting many jobs out of reach of qualified college students and recent graduates,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a written statement accompanying the settlement agreements. 

While contemporary customs and practices are usually thought to preclude overt hostility to a nationality group, Palmer Morrel-Samuels, research psychologist and lecturer at the University of Michigan, told The Well News that it’s still difficult to ascertain how widespread actual discrimination is.


Although unfair employment practices against noncitizens are explicitly illegal under the Immigration and Nationality Act, one of the sections of the law “contains a loophole that’s large enough for a freight train,” he said. Specifically, exceptions are provided for employers to prefer “equally qualified citizens,” meaning companies actually can pass over noncitizens in job postings if they find an equally qualified permanent resident for the role.

“So in other words, if somebody felt that they were discriminated against because they’re [an Irish citizen], okay — all the employer had to do was just to show that there was an equally qualified U.S. citizen that they preferred,” Morrel-Samuels said. “The loophole is enormous.”

Consequently, he said it can be hard to determine the strength of the greater “undercurrent of xenophobia” embedded in society just based on these cases in a vacuum. Twenty-one other … hiring discrimination cases have sprouted up in the last seven years nationwide and were either settled or are ongoing — some of which involved major companies like CVS, Exxon, and Procter & Gamble.

More surprising, Morrel-Samuels said, was that the average payout of the 16 settlements delivered last week was only $52,000. The most common civil penalty amounted to $4,144 — which seven companies were issued. Three companies — KPMG LLP, Keyot LLC and Area-I Inc. — were forced to pay civil penalties amounting to $306,656; $256,928; and $103,600, respectively.

The law used to secure the settlements is largely misunderstood, he said, as it touches on a somewhat complex and subtle area of discrimination law. Its basic protections and rights are outlined in the equivalent provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents discrimination based on nationality. 


The caveat baked into the Immigration and Nationality Act’s section on unfair immigration-related employment practices presents a challenge for plaintiffs in some discrimination cases. For instance, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled against a plaintiff in June who claimed to have been refused admission from the City University of New York’s Silberman School of Social Work based on their political opinion imputed by their skin color and Jewish identity.

Although the plaintiff believed that they were rejected due to religious or political discrimination, the protections of the law only apply to immigration citizenship status. As a result, District Judge Vernon Broderick in part granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case.

“Here, plaintiff’s claims have nothing to do with illegal aliens, or the hiring and firing of employees, and plaintiff’s citation to these statutes as a basis for her claims is therefore frivolous,” Broderick wrote in the ruling.

Caren Goldberg, associate professor of management at Bowie State University and discrimination issues consultant, said ultimately there is no way of knowing just how widespread it is for organizations to exclude people based on citizenship or immigration status. Discrimination in recruitment is generally harder to expose than discrimination in other business decisions, like promotions and compensation, because one candidate has no way of knowing how they stack up against other candidates.

Prospective employees typically have no way of knowing whether they’ve been denied an interview because of a protected status like citizenship, gender, race or religion, or because the recruiting organization chose more qualified candidates, she said.

“One distinction between citizenship [or] immigration status and other protected characteristics is that employers may need to sponsor a visa for noncitizens, which can cost thousands of dollars per employee,” Goldberg told The Well News. “Because employers often don’t understand that there are circumstances under which they would not need to sponsor a visa to hire a noncitizen, the default ‘easy solution’ is to exclude noncitizens from consideration.”

If this is happening at organizations like KPMG that boast highly trained human resource staff, Goldberg said, “it is most certainly happening” at smaller organizations with fewer resources and training. In addition to the varying amounts paid in civil penalties, the DOJ required the offending companies to take part in employment eligibility verification training, known as Form I-9.

Goldberg also maintained that Clarke’s assertion that hiring discrimination presents a “widespread problem across higher education in the United States” was perplexing because Georgia Tech wasn’t complicit in the schemes. Simply put, it isn’t the universities that are discriminating; rather, it’s the employers that recruit at universities that were found to have discriminated.


“It is inaccurate to call it ‘discrimination in higher [education],’ as a university campus is merely a recruitment source for the employers who hire their graduates,” Goldberg said. “The platform Georgia Tech used likely made it easier for the DOJ to detect a pattern, but the issue extends well beyond campus recruiting.” 

Reece can be reached at [email protected] and @ReeceNations

A+
a-

Updates

Caren Goldberg is now a research fellow at the University of Seville.

In The News

Health

Voting

Employment

Starbucks Workers Strike at More Than 100 US Stores

Starbucks workers at more than 100 U.S. stores are on strike Thursday in their largest labor action since a campaign... Read More

Starbucks workers at more than 100 U.S. stores are on strike Thursday in their largest labor action since a campaign to unionize the company’s stores began late last year. The walkouts coincide with Starbucks’ annual Red Cup Day, when the company gives free reusable cups to... Read More

November 16, 2022
by Dan McCue
House Poised to Limit Use of NDAs in Workplace Harassment, Assault Cases

WASHINGTON — The House is expected to vote Wednesday on a bill that would limited the use of nondisclosure agreements... Read More

WASHINGTON — The House is expected to vote Wednesday on a bill that would limited the use of nondisclosure agreements to silence victims of workplace sexual assault and harassment. In a party line, 215 to 208 vote on Tuesday, members voted in favor  of a resolution... Read More

November 14, 2022
by Dan McCue
Senators Push Regulators on New Silica Standards for Miners

WASHINGTON — Democratic senators from four coal producing states want to know why the Mine Safety and Health Administration has... Read More

WASHINGTON — Democratic senators from four coal producing states want to know why the Mine Safety and Health Administration has delayed the release of a new silica standard for coal miners, particularly those in Appalachia. Exposure to silica, an inherent part of the dust present in... Read More

October 12, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Former eBay Employees Sentenced After Harassing E-Retailers’ Critics

BOSTON — A federal judge in Boston sentenced more former eBay employees Tuesday after they pleaded guilty to criminal charges... Read More

BOSTON — A federal judge in Boston sentenced more former eBay employees Tuesday after they pleaded guilty to criminal charges from a harassment campaign against two journalists who criticized the online retailer in their blog. Prosecutors called the harassment “unimaginably cruel” for a scheme that included... Read More

September 19, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
House to Vote on Student Loan Bill That Allows Loan Modifications

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a bill that would allow married couples... Read More

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a bill that would allow married couples with consolidated student debt to pay down their loans separately. The Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act is part of a broader Biden administration plan to reduce... Read More

September 14, 2022
by Dan McCue
White House Striving to Avert Crisis as Potential Rail Strike Grows Nearer

WASHINGTON — As President Joe Biden continued to press union leaders and rail companies to make a deal and avert... Read More

WASHINGTON — As President Joe Biden continued to press union leaders and rail companies to make a deal and avert a national railroad strike as of 12:01 a.m. on Friday, the White House is working on contingencies to reduce the impact of a work stoppage. Earlier... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top