In Buffalo Transportation, Inc. v. USA, the 2nd U.S. Cir. Court of Appeals upheld $75,600 in civil penalties assessed by the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) in an I-9 case.
ICE audited the I-9 forms of this employer and found 138 substantive I-9 violations. The main violations related to failing to properly prepare or present Forms I-9 or failing to complete the I-9s timely (within three days of hiring). ICE levied fines of $935 for each violation.
The fines were reduced by mitigating factors such as: absence of bad faith, absence of illegal workers and no history of prior violations. Despite these mitigating factors, ICE sought $110,000 in penalties.
The employer appealed to OCAHO and the fines were slightly reduced. The employer appealed the OCAHO decision to the 2nd Circuit. The court held that OCAHO made the right decision in reducing the fines to $500 to $600 per violation but upheld the final fines of $75,600.
Other issues in this case included: whether the employer should have been given a warning notice rather than a penalty; and whether the employer’s copies of valid work authorization documents were sufficient to overcome the requirements of correct I-9 completion. To both of these issues, the court held that a penalty was appropriate and the employer was required to complete the I-9 correctly despite having copies of employment verification documents.
This case is another reminder of the importance of correctly completing I-9 forms and conducting annual I-9 audits and training to ensure compliance.