Wholesome-Sounding Employer Caught Discriminating Against U.S. Citizens

By David North on December 15, 2011

What could sound more wholesome this time of the year?

How about a Christmas tree farm in rural Pennsylvania?

One that also grows corn and pumpkins and squash?

An outfit that is close to the small farming town of Weatherly (population 2,384 in 2010, a decline from the previous census, as so often is the case in rural America)?

Think again.

An obscure arm of the U.S. Justice Department, one that rarely takes such an action, has just settled a lawsuit against Sernak Farms (of Weatherly) for discriminating against eight U.S. citizen workers, in favor of nonimmigrant H2-A workers.

The press release from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) said that the employer had hired three H2-A aliens in preference to three of the citizens, and, as for the other five, it had "treated them differently than Sernak's foreign national employees in their terms and conditions of employment, and then dismissed them because of their citizenship status."

The press release does not tell us the national origin of the aliens, but said the eight citizens were residents of Puerto Rico. The eight will share in an award of $30,000 in back pay; one hopes that the checks arrive before Christmas.

When OSC takes employers to court, it is usually because they have tried a little too vigorously to avoid hiring illegal workers, as we noted in a blog some six months ago. At that time we found that OSC had issued press releases on discrimination against citizens only five times in the previous 13 years, while sending out releases on bias against aliens 25 times in the same time period.

The full name of the tiny agency is the Office of the Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices; it is within DOJ's Civil Rights Division.

That agency's bare-bones press statement did not mention the Christmas trees, the corn, or the squash.

It also did not state the fact that Sernak Farms is a repeat Justice Department offender. A Google search shows the employer listed in an old file of the long-departed Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Its title is "Employer Sanctions Final Order List of Companies Fined (information accumulated February 2002)". Apparently Sernak had been caught hiring illegal aliens and was fined $2,550 in the year 2000.

If you want to browse through this nine-year-old, nationwide list of firms not to do business with, go to http://www.uscis.gov/files/article/es2_02.pdf.