Food by VICE

Dunkin' Is Closing Stores, Suing Franchisees Who Have Allegedly Hired Undocumented Workers

This might seem like a Trump-related crackdown, but Dunkin' has had policies against undocumented workers for decades.

by Jelisa Castrodale
Jul 10 2019, 2:37pm

Depending on your political leanings, which Instagram accounts you've interacted with, and how the almighty algorithm vets your account, you might be served a daily assortment of T-shirts with slogans like "No Human Being Is Illegal" and "Immigrants Feed America." We're guessing that no one in the Trump administration has placed any orders for those shirts, and apparently, Dunkin’ Donuts Franchising LLC isn't going to, either.

According to The New Food Economy, that division of Dunkin' Brands has filed lawsuits against franchisees who have hired undocumented immigrants to work in their Dunkin' stores. It has taken the owners of more than 30 stores to court since last September and, just last month, it filed a federal complaint against the owners of nine locations, accusing Thomas Sheehan and Kenneth Larson of failing to verify that some of their employees were authorized to work in the United States.

Dunkin' reviewed the employment and tax records for those nine restaurants in Delaware, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, and did not find I-9 forms—mandatory employment eligibility documents—for "a substantial portion" of workers, and they allegedly had not used the online E-Verify system to double-confirm that those employees were allowed to work in the United States. According to Dunkin', that adds up to a violation of both federal immigration laws and its own franchise agreements, which the company says gives it the right to close all of Sheehan and Larson's stores. (Although the E-Verify system is voluntary for most employers, it is a non-negotiable requirement for all Dunkin' franchisees; more on that in a few.)

This is basically the most recent rerun of what Dunkin' did to a group of franchisees in New Jersey and Virginia, and a different group of Delaware franchisees: It reviewed the stores' employment records, found missing or inaccurate I-9 forms and a failure to use E-Verify, and then filed a lawsuit. (The investigation into the five Delaware stores began after a "customer complaint.")

Restaurant Business reports that the franchisees in that Delaware case have filed their own counterclaim against Dunkin', alleging that the company didn't give them the opportunity to "correct the violations," and they also allege that Dunkin' is trying to resell their former stores "without providing the operator with compensation."

While this might seem like a Trump-related crackdown, Dunkin' has had its own non-negotiable policies against illegal or undocumented workers for several presidential administrations.

Vikrant Advani, an attorney and professor at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, told The New Food Economy that Dunkin' hasn't always tried to find standalone I-9 or E-Verify violations; that part seems to be new. “It used to be sort of a throw-in: This person hasn’t done 15 other things, and they haven’t complied with the E-Verify system,” he said. “The only difference now is that Dunkin’ is going after these franchisees specifically, and probably only because they’ve failed to comply with employment verification laws.”

In early 2006, signs that read "We follow the law! This company hires lawful workers only" appeared in the windows of some Boston-area Dunkin' Donuts locations, reportedly after customers started asking whether employees who struggled to speak English were illegal immigrants. In July of that year, then-President George W. Bush used an Alexandria, Virginia Dunkin' Donuts as a backdrop for the launch of the Basic Pilot Program, which allowed employers to check their workers' employment eligibility against records from the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

"Part of a comprehensive immigration plan is to give employers the tools necessary to determine whether or not the workers they're looking for are here legally in America," he said at the time. "And we've got such a plan: Basic Pilot, it's called. It's working." (In 2007, Basic Pilot was renamed E-Verify.) That same day, Dunkin' Donuts said it would immediately require all of its franchisees to participate in the Basic Pilot program.

Last year, Dave Hoffmann, the then-new CEO of Dunkin' Brands, said that the company's stores were going to need more immigrant workers—especially foreign students—in the future. "There may be opportunities for us to be able to open up the J-1 visas, which are critical in many of our areas,” he told Bloomberg. “The tight labor market and staffing has been an issue in the industry for a while.”

Although if Dunkin' keeps suing franchisees and closing restaurants, that certainly decreases the number of employees it will need in the future.