East Coast Foods Inc., a California restaurant company, was fined over $18,300 following a Form I-9 audit that discovered numerous violations.
East Coast Foods does business as Roscoe's House of Chicken N Waffles. The longtime California culinary institution started serving up chicken and waffles in 1975, according to the Los Angeles Times. Other food on the menu includes biscuits, grits and cornbread. President Barack Obama stopped by the West Los Angeles location while campaigning in 2011. The restaurant also made an appearance in a song by Notorious B.I.G., a rapper, as well as the Quentin Tarantino film "Jackie Brown." Other pop culture references aren't hard to find.
ICE discovers Form I-9 violations
However, now the Roscoe's name is being mentioned in legal settings in addition to movies and rap songs. A Form I-9 audit led Immigration and Customs Enforcement to assess a $41,935 penalty against East Coast Foods, Law360 reported. The government claimed it found at least 20 individuals employed by East Coast Foods who were not authorized to work in the U.S. However, Administrative Law Judge Stacy Paddack ruled that ICE did not have enough enough evidence to meet the burden of proof. On top of that, ICE stated the company failed to properly prepare or present certain Form I-9s and did not sufficiently complete others.
"The fine was dropped from nearly $42,000 to $18,350."
Paddack ultimately decided that circumstances were right to reduce the fine proposed by ICE. The judge attributed this decision to East Coast Foods' small size. In addition, the fine was dropped from nearly $42,000 to $18,350 due to ICE's inability to offer evidence certain that employees lacked authorization to work in the U.S.
"Absent more specific evidence that a particular individual involved in one of the 36 violations was unauthorized for employment in the United States, the penalties may not be enhanced on this basis," Paddack wrote on the fine.
Similar case sees fine reduced
This decision came on the heels of a similar case against Cawoods Produce Inc. The company had similar allegations levied against it, and also ended up with a reduced fine due to factors such as business size. Though there have been recent instances of penalty reduction, businesses would do well to avoid fines altogether. This means ensuring employees are educated on hiring compliance and establishing processes that mitigate the potential for Form I-9 violations.