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PRESS RELEASE
2-3-11

EEOC Sues Three South Carolina Companies For National Origin Discrimination

Assembly Technician, U.S. Citizen, Fired Because She Was Born in Guatemala, Federal Agency Charged

GREENVILLE , S.C. – AJK Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Express Employment Professionals, a Greenville-based employment staffing firm and Proformance Group Inc., a Greenville-based industrial subcontractor, violated federal law by discriminating against a Guatemalan-born employee because of her national origin, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, on October 3, 2008, Rosmery Diaz Caraballo, a Guatemalan-born naturalized U.S. citizen, was assigned by staffing firm Express Employment Professionals to work as an Assembly Technician for Proformance Group. After working at Proformance Group’s facility for about two hours, Caraballo was confronted by a representative of Express Employment and asked to produce a birth certificate. The EEOC said that Proformance Group required that Caraballo provide a birth certificate proving she was born in the United States in order to continue working on the assignment. When Caraballo responded that she did not have a U.S. birth certificate because she was born in Guatemala, but did have a U.S. passport proving her U.S. citizenship, she was told that she could not continue to work on the assignment.

According to the EEOC, the assignment that Caraballo worked on at Proformance Group involved assembling control panels for use at a U.S. nuclear facility in Piketon, Ohio. Under the requirements of that project, all employees had to be citizens of the United States. The EEOC argues that proof of U.S. citizenship could have been verified through one of many documents, including a birth certificate or a U.S. passport. The agency contends that Caraballo was discriminated against based on her national origin despite her U.S. citizenship and her offer to prove her citizenship using her passport, when she was not allowed to work on the project because she was not born in the United States.

Although the EEOC contends that Caraballo was terminated based on her national origin, the complaint alleges in the alternative, that she was never hired by the defendants due to the short period of time which Caraballo worked at Proformance Group before being sent home.

National origin discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Express Services, Inc., AJK Enterprises, LLC d/b/a Express Employment Professionals, and Proformance Group, Inc., Civil Action No. 6:11-cv-00279-HFF-BHH) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The lawsuit also names Express Services, Inc. (ESI), a Colorado corporation, as a defendant. ESI is the franchisor for Express Employment and has franchise locations worldwide. The EEOC said that Express Employment and ESI operated as an integrated business enterprise and that Proformance Group was a joint employer of Caraballo with Express Employment and ESI. The complaint also argues that Proformance Group interfered with the employment relationship between Express Employment, ESI and Caraballo.

The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages for Caraballo, as well as injunctive and other non-monetary relief.

“Although citizenship is not a protected status under Title VII, a citizenship requirement can have the effect of discriminating on the basis of national origin,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office. “Employers must be careful when applying citizenship requirements to ensure that persons who are citizens of the United States, but who were born outside the country, are not discriminated against because of where they were born.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination. More information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.