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Northwestern Mutual faces class action lawsuit for alienage discrimination

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and a private law firm represent Ruben Juarez in a first-of-a-kind lawsuit against Northwestern Mutual, an insurance company.  Mr. Juarez was brought to the United States illegally as a child.  However, he has a work permit, a social security number, and he is authorized to live and work in the United States under a program called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) law, which is an executive order.  Despite the fact that Mr. Suarez was legally authorized to work in the United States, Northwestern Mutual allegedly refused to hire him because he is not a U.S. citizen and he does not have a “green card.”

In the lawsuit filed against Northwestern Mutual, Mr. Juarez’s attorneys have expressed that they intend to pursue the case as a class action on behalf of persons who are legally authorized to work in the United States, but who were denied the right to work by Northwestern Mutual at any time since July 9, 2010, because they are not citizens or permanent residents (“green card” holders).

Victor Viramontes, of MALDEF, said, “this lawsuit should serve as a warning that employers cannot pick and choose which verification documents or residency histories they will accept from prospective employees who are otherwise excellent employment candidates and meet their obligations under the law.”

Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF, said, “with its wrongheaded hiring restrictions, Northwestern Mutual has not only cut itself off from some of the most entrepreneurial potential agents available, but has plainly and publicly violated the law in disqualifying work-authorized immigrants from joining the company.  The right to contract free of irrational bias and discrimination is a bedrock principle of American law.”

The lawsuit was filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, a federal law dating back to the Reconstruction Era, which states as follows:

“All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other.”

Plaintiffs who are discriminated against because of their race often cite § 1981 in their lawsuits.  However, this lawsuit does not allege race discrimination but, rather, “alienage discrimination.”  If successful, this lawsuit could set an important precedent that would protect immigrants similar to Mr. Juarez.