Lawsuit claims race discrimination, abuse of power by Blunt

Thursday, October 25, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A lawsuit filed Thursday accuses Gov. Matt Blunt of racial discrimination and abuse of power for firing a state janitorial contractor that employed illegal immigrants.

Blunt called the lawsuit "ludicrous" and defended his decision to cancel the contract of Sam's Janitorial Services and bar the company from future state work.

About 25 company employees were arrested in a March 6 sting at a Jefferson City state office building by federal and state law enforcement officers. The lawsuit says just eight of those people were charged and only four have pleaded or been found guilty of possessing forged documents showing they could work in the United States.

The lawsuit claims Blunt exceeded his gubernatorial powers when he terminated the contract and disqualified Sam's Janitorial from future state work.

It also alleges racial discrimination because Sam's Janitorial is owned by an African-born U.S. citizen and the state contract was subsequently given to B&G Cleaning, owned by white contractors. At that time, B&G Cleaning also employed three of the four people who ultimately were found guilty, the lawsuit says.

"That's ludicrous," Blunt responded Thursday when asked about the lawsuit at a Capitol news conference.

Blunt said he didn't know the race of the Sam's Janitorial owner, K. Asamoah-Boadu, when he issued an executive order March 6 to cancel contracts with any companies found to be using illegal immigrants.

The lawsuit by Asamoah-Boadu, filed in Cole County Circuit Court, claims Asamoah-Boadu hired only those people who appeared to have proper work documents. It says he provided the Missouri State Capitol Police and the state Division of Purchasing and Materials Management with copies of Social Security and worker registration cards for each employee who was not a U.S. citizen.

The state "approved each and every employee," the lawsuit says, and did not notify him of any problems with the proposed workers.

In March, Blunt credited the state's manager of custodial operations for first noticing inconsistencies in the janitorial employees' work documents. Capitol Police were notified, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency ultimately got involved in the investigation.

On Thursday, Blunt insisted that Sam's Janitorial Services had employed illegal immigrants "in a very negligent way."

"This wasn't one or two people that might have slipped through the cracks of employment verification, this was a large portion of his work force," Blunt said. "I am confident that we have taken the appropriate action, the sort of action that Missouri taxpayers expect and deserve their government to take."

The lawsuit claims federal immigration laws governing employers pre-empt state and local laws, and Blunt had no authority to issue an executive order that essentially amounted to an enforcement of federal law.

Blunt issued his executive order while the sting was ongoing, and the lawsuit claims the state did not know at the time whether the Sam's Janitorial employees had federal permission to work in the United States or would be deported. That violated the constitution's due process rights, the lawsuit contends.

The lawsuit seeks to reinstate nine canceled contracts, asks to reverse the company's ban from state work and requests an unspecified amount of money for actual and punitive damages.

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