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The Supreme Court on Monday declined to consider whether an employer can inquire about the immigration status of a group of Latina and Southeast Asian women who are suing the company for job discrimination. Justices let stand a lower court ruling that said NIBCO Inc.’s questions during the early stages of the lawsuit were irrelevant to the issue of whether the company violated the Title VII federal law barring discrimination based on national origin. Martha Rivera and 22 other immigrant workers, formerly employed at NIBCO’s Fresno, Calif. plant, sued the pipe and valve maker for discrimination after it required them to take a job skills test that was administered only in English. After performing poorly, the workers were demoted, transferred and eventually fired in 1998. During the lawsuit’s fact-finding phase, NIBCO asked the workers about their immigration status, saying the information was needed to determine their entitlement to back pay and other potential money damages. The Elkhart, Ind.-based company said it would not disclose the workers’ immigration status to outside parties. The former employees protested, citing a potential chilling effect on immigrants’ willingness to assert workplace rights. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. In an opinion by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, the court noted that there are 5.3 million undocumented workers in the country, many of whom are reluctant to report discriminatory employment practices. “Granting employers the right to inquire into workers’ immigration status in cases like this would allow them to raise implicitly the threat of deportation and criminal prosecution every time a worker, documented or undocumented, reports illegal practices or files a Title VII action,” Reinhardt wrote. The case is NIBCO v. Rivera, 04-936. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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