Panda Express Pays $600,000 to Settle Labor Claims

WASHINGTON (CN) — Panda Express, the Chinese restaurant chain, will pay $600,000 to settle federal claims that it discriminated against noncitizen employees.

The Department of Justice announced the settlement on Thursday. Panda Express, which operates 1,800 restaurants in the United States, will pay $400,000 as a civil penalty and $200,000 to establish a back pay fund to compensate workers.

Panda Express unnecessarily required legal resident workers to repeatedly re-establish their work authorization, while not making similar requests of U.S. citizen workers.

“Employers should ensure that their reverification practices comply with laws that protect workers against discrimination,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department applauds Panda Express for its cooperation during this investigation and its commitment to compensating workers who may have lost wages due to its documentary practices.”

The Department of Justice began its investigation on May 31, 2016. About a year later, it found “reasonable cause to believe that respondent engaged in a pattern or practice of unfair documentary practices against non-U.S. citizens based on their citizenship status,” according to the settlement.

Panda Express spokesperson Thien Ho said in a statement: “While we continue to believe that we did not discriminate, either in intent or in practice, we settled this matter with the Department of Justice in order to focus our time and resources on our commitment to supporting our associates. Even before this settlement, we had put in place additional systems and training to address our employee authorization verification processes.”

Noncitizens who are authorized to work in the country but lost work at Panda Express between May 31, 2014 and June 28, 2017 due to the documented practices may be eligible for back pay, the Department of Justice said.

Panda Express also must train its human resources personnel on the requirements of the Immigration and Nationality Act’s anti-discrimination provision and be subject to monitoring and reporting requirements.

The Immigration and Nationality Act prohibits unfair documentary practices, retaliation and intimidation, and discrimination on the basis of citizenship, immigration status and national origin in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee.

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