Royer Ramirez Ruiz has sued Zoom Video Communications Inc., in federal court in Seattle, asserting claims under Washington state law and 42 U.S.C. Section 1981, alleging discrimination based on alienage.
According to the lawsuit filed by Royer Ramirez Ruiz, Zoom or a recruiter for Zoom made improper pre-employment inquiries and ultimately rejected him for employment “due to immigration,” even though he was authorized to work in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Under DACA, protection from deportation and work authorization are available for qualifying individuals.
According to the lawsuit, Ramirez Ruiz was born in Mexico, brought to the United States by his parents in 2001, and has remained in the United States since then. He applied and was granted DACA status in 2012 and has been authorized to work in the United States since then.
In July 2021, a “Technical Sourcer” contacted Ramirez Ruiz to discuss an opening at Zoom. He was asked whether he required sponsorship and replied that he did not. During a subsequent job interview, he confirmed that he was legally authorized to work in the U.S. Thereafter, during a video call, the recruiter indicated he was an ideal candidate.
As the call was ending, the recruiter again asked about his need for sponsorship. Ramirez Ruiz again confirmed that he did not require sponsorship. He was then asked whether he was a citizen of the United States. When he answered no, the recruiter asked whether he was a permanent resident and pressured him to disclose the program that granted him work authorization.
According to the lawsuit, Ramirez Ruiz tried to dodge the question multiple times, not wanting to share his specific immigration status and knowing that he was not required to share anything other than he was legally authorized to work in the U.S. However, he finally disclosed that he was a DACA recipient.
The recruiter responded, “Ooh, that might be an issue,” telling Ramirez Ruiz that he would check out the issue internally before sending his resume to a hiring manager. Two days later he received an email from the recruiter saying, “[It] does not look like we can move forward due to immigration.” Ramirez Ruiz sought a further explanation from the recruiter but did not receive a response.
The allegations in the lawsuit provide helpful guidance to employers. Although the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 allows employers to ask whether an applicant is legally authorized to work in the U. S. and whether sponsorship is required, the recruiters in this case allegedly went far beyond that, asking whether Ramirez Ruiz was a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident, and the program under which he was authorized to work.
After he disclosed he was a DACA recipient, he was told that might be an issue and was ultimately denied employment because of his immigration status.
Under IRCA, an employer may not question an employee’s documents or responses if they meet I-9 requirements. If Ramirez Ruiz was legally authorized to work in the U. S., did not require sponsorship, and was the most qualified candidate for the position, he should have been hired and allowed to choose the documents to submit to prove his identity and employment authorization in accordance with IRCA.
Tammy C. Woolley is Senior Counsel in the Opelika, Alabama, office of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is adapted from a recent Legal Bulletin written by my colleague Will Krasnow and published to our clients.