On June 29, Soriano filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against her former employer, the logistics company GFA Alabama, and against Glovis Georgia, also a logistics firm. The companies occupy space in the Kia manufacturing plant in West Point. Soriano claims she was discriminated against based on her sex, race and national origin.
In an additional charge filed on Aug. 3, Soriano also alleged that what happened to her is part of a pattern, with at least one other pregnant worker being fired after her pregnancy was beginning to show. Filing charges with the EEOC triggers months-long investigations, and can lead to lawsuits.
To legally bring Soriano to Georgia, GFA relied on the Trade NAFTA visa commonly known as a TN visa. It’s designed to temporarily fill high-skilled jobs in the U.S. with Mexican and Canadian professionals. According to a list published by the U.S. Department of State, jobs as engineers and technicians are among those that can be filled by the TN visa program. Assembly line work is not.
U.S authorities vet TN visa applications and job offers before migrants travel – and when they first arrive in the country – but experts say there is no oversight of the program once TN workers actually report to work.
Amid domestic shortages of low-wage labor, there are signs that Georgia’s growing auto sector may be increasingly misusing the TN visa program to fill low-level jobs.
In a proposed class action suit filed last year, plaintiffs allege that over 100 Mexican migrants were misled into assembly line jobs in Georgia manufacturing plants, where they say they earned less than U.S. workers performing similar tasks.
Ben Botts, then legal director of the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM), a migrant workers organization that operates in Mexico and the U.S., called that case “really emblematic of a pattern that we’ve seen in this region and in this industry, where employers in these supply chains are misusing these visas.”
CDM worked with Soriano to file her EEOC complaint.
Joshua Lim, a lawyer representing the Alabama-based GFA, said via email that “We categorically deny the substance of her allegations against our client and intend to vigorously dispute the claims in a court of law.”
A Glovis Georgia representative said Soriano was not directly employed by Glovis Georgia, although she worked in one of the company’s warehouses.
Soriano “has never worked for Glovis Georgia. Rather, from her EEOC charge, it appears that [Soriano] worked for GFA, who is a subcontractor for Glovis Georgia at one of our off-site warehouses. Glovis Georgia was unaware of [her] allegations prior to receiving the charge from the AJC.”
‘I wanted to keep my baby’
For Soriano, her journey to Georgia started on LinkedIn, where she saw an opening for industrial engineers. In short order, both she and her husband had successfully applied and quit their jobs. In Mexico, Soriano worked as a chemist.
“We were really excited,” Soriano said.
To obtain the visa that would allow her to legally live and work in Georgia, Soriano interviewed with U.S. consular authorities in Mexico. She presented them with a support letter from GFA dated Aug. 1, 2022.
In the letter, a company representative confirmed Soriano had been offered a position as an industrial engineer that was “professional and specialized in nature.”
“The duties of the position offered and the very nature of GFA services requires that a candidate possess a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering or a related engineering field,” the representative wrote.
Soriano said the work both she and her husband wound up doing once settled in Georgia in November was “physical” in nature, consisting of sorting and moving heavy auto parts. The $11-per-hour pay was allegedly also smaller than expected — and less than that of U.S. workers with similar responsibilities, according to the EEOC complaint.
“It was not at all like what they had described.”
The couple made the decision to stick it out at GFA to “recuperate some of the investment” that went behind their move. They knew switching employers could jeopardize the validity of their visas, and their legal status in the country.
It’s a pattern seen in TN visa workers who are disappointed with the jobs they find themselves in. “People feel like they can’t leave [their job] because of the visa. … They feel pressured to stay in abusive situations,” said CDM staff attorney Abigail Kerfoot.
In Soriano’s case, even though she is on a temporary work visa, federal law requires employers provide pregnant workers with accommodations to help them do their jobs while protecting their health and the health of their pregnancies.
Soriano learned she was expecting in December. After having two bleeding episodes, she worried her job was putting too much strain on her body. In January, she asked to be transitioned into a less physically taxing role.
“I wanted to keep my job but I didn’t want to lose my baby.”
Management, she says, refused her request, and pressured her multiple times to quit and continue her pregnancy in Mexico.
“One GFA manager even told me that what my husband and I had done — becoming pregnant — was very wrong,” Soriano’s EEOC declaration reads.
On the day of her first prenatal visit on Feb. 6, Soriano was terminated. Her doctor had advised her not to lift or move objects heavier than 25 pounds, less than half the weight of some parts she was lifting at the warehouse. Kerfoot sees that turn of events as a “clear case of pregnancy discrimination.”
As Soriano awaits the EEOC complaint process to reach its conclusion, she says she would have never come to Georgia through the TN visa program had she known what was to come.
“Without a doubt, I would have stayed in Mexico,” she said. “In these conditions, it’s tough to know what kind of future is waiting for us.”
Soriano’s husband continues to be employed by GFA. Their child is set to be born any day now.
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