Thursday, December 30, 2010

Working papers come out of a cereal box? Don't blame the employer

Posted By on Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 4:00 PM

click to enlarge A state contractor in Missouri hired a worker who presented a novelty Social Security card.
  • A state contractor in Missouri hired a worker who presented a novelty Social Security card.

A janitorial company with contracts to clean Missouri state office buildings cannot be held liable for workers who presented novelty Social Security cards during background checks.

In 2007, 25 employees of Sam's Janitorial Service were arrested or detained on suspicion of having falsified documentation. The sweep made headlines because the undocumented workers were scraping the gum off the floors of state office buildings. Upon the arrests, then Gov. Matt Blunt terminated the contracts and barred Sam's Janitorial from working for the state.


Sam's Janitorial had provided information about its workers to the Office of Administration. Occasionally, the office would reject workers or ask for more information, such as in cases where a Social Security card was unsigned.

Ultimately, the fakery that was going on became too much to bear. In two instances, Sam's Janitorial submitted Social Security cards with the words "novelty" and "void" literally printed on them.

Blunt held a press conference to announce the cancellation of the contract. Jay Nixon, then Missouri's attorney general, tried to make a campaign issue out of the sweep and accused the Blunt administration of "poor contract oversight." (At the time, Blunt had not yet announced that he was not going to seek another term.) Two months before the arrest, a fiscal officer in Nixon's office had warned a manager in the Division of Facilities Management about Sam's Janitorial apparent use of unauthorized aliens. (In the end, four workers were convicted of having forged documents.)

Sam's owner K. Asamoah-Boadu, an African-born U.S. citizen, successfully pleaded ignorance to the Cracker Jack-box S.S. cards. He won a $151,782 judgment against the Office of Administration on a breach of contract claim. Asamoah-Boadu was able to argue that the Office of Administration did not prove that he violated state and federal laws regarding the employment of aliens. It only appeared that he did.

The state appealed, and Asamoah-Boadu has triumphed once again. The Court of Appeals in western Missouri says Sam's Janitorial is protected by what amounts to the double-negative defense. In an opinion released earlier this week, the court says no evidence was presented that Sam's Janitorial did not verify a worker's identity and employment authorization by examining documents other than the Social Security card that came out of a skeeball machine. In other words, the state never proved that Asamoah-Boadu was running a scam.

Asamoah-Boadu can't claim total victory, however. The appeals court reversed the damages award, ruling that it was not calculated properly. State officials believe they owe less than $13,000, according to The Daily Record, which reports that Sam's Janitorial has resumed working for the state. 

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