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Lawsuit Claims Northwestern Mutual Discriminated Against Legal Immigrant [Watch]

First Posted: Jul 10, 2014 11:38 AM EDT
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A class action lawsuit filed in New York federal court Wednesday accuses The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., "the nation's largest direct provider of individual life insurance," of discrimination when it blocked the hiring of a legal immigrant.

The immigrant, Mexico-born Ruben Juarez, is authorized to work in the U.S. through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the federal program for undocumented youths created by directive under the administration of President Barack Obama.

Juarez, a 25-year-old Yonkers, New York, resident, is an honors college student who graduated from Lehman College, in New York, with a B.S. in accounting and a 3.83 GPA in May 2014, according to the lawsuit. He was recently accepted to Fordham University's School of Business to pursue a master's in global finance.

According to the complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District in New York, in October 2013, a Northwestern Mutual recruiter invited Juarez to attend an information session. The company expressed an interest in hiring him for a financial representative internship and asked him for employment documents. He provided a federal Employment Authorization Document and his Social Security number. He was then asked if he had a green card or if he was a U.S. citizen. Juarez said he had DACA status and was authorized to work in the United States. When the company learned he was not a citizen and did not have a green card, it blocked him from the job, the lawsuit states. Juarez researched his rights under DACA and emailed the company representative, explaining that he could legally work for Northwestern Mutual. The company representative, Susan Lewandowski, wrote back, "Sorry but you have to be a US citizen or have a green card."

Juarez told the Latin Post, "That made me feel really bad. When I got DACA, I thought everything was going to be OK being treated like everyone else -- someone who has a green card, who is a citizen -- so when I got that, it was just devastating."

Juarez added that he decided to fight "because I want a business career; I really wanted that internship."

The Department of Homeland Security regulates the United State Citizenship and Immigration Services, which had as of Feb. 6 approved over 500,000 DACA requests.

At a news conference in the Gansevoort Park Avenue NYC hotel in Manhattan announcing the lawsuit, Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), said, "This lawsuit seeks to prevent Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. from continuing a public policy of excluding from being employed as insurance agents those who are not either citizens or holding a 'green card,' whether or not they are work-authorized."

MALDEF is a nationwide civil rights educational and legal organization formed in 1968.

Saenz added, "This is a critically important case. One week ago, our nation commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Perhaps the most successful element of that Civil Rights Act is Title VII, which targets employment discrimination. That notion of preventing at the federal level employment discrimination stems from an even older and even more established legal doctrine that goes back to the days after the Civil War. The basic notion [was] that everyone should have the Right to Contract [Civil Rights Act of 1866] to sign a contract and not be discriminated against for irrational or bias reasons. That law is at stake in the litigation filed today. It is that bedrock legal principal that Northwestern chooses to deny publicly and continues to deny that right. We are looking for others because Northwestern has been so public about its discrimination and exclusion that it engages in. This is not something that happens surreptitiously; it is something the company is open about on its website with everyone that seeks employment with them. This is an important case looking to ensure that that class of individuals excluded by Northwestern Mutual from employment is protected."

The legal team will seek to have the lawsuit certified as a class action to include people denied the right to work at Northwestern Mutual since July 9, 2010.

Northwestern Mutual's headquarters are in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It provides life and disability insurance and annuities.

Latin Post contacted Northwestern Mutual for comment on the class action lawsuit and was given the following statement: "Northwestern Mutual actively recruits and welcomes candidates of all backgrounds to its field offices across the country. Each year, our network offices offer internship opportunities to more than 2,500 college students nationwide. Since we have not received the lawsuit, we're not able to comment on the specific allegations. However, we can tell you our company's contracting policy welcomes individuals who are authorized to work in the United States."

Co-counsel on the lawsuit, Adam T. Klein of Outten & Golden, told reporters, "A recent study by the American Immigration Council on the impact and value of DACA found that 60 percent of people who received permission to work under DACA obtained a new job, 50 percent opened their first bank account, 33 percent obtained their first credit card, 60 percent obtained a new driver's license, 21 percent obtained health care and 45 percent increased job earnings ... precisely the kinds of opportunities the president considered when taking action in response to the congressional failure to pass the DREAM Act."

For more information about the case, visit northwesternmutualdiscrimination.com.

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