HOUSTON — The U.S. Department of Justice says a Texas-based organization that runs facilities to hold immigrant children has settled a retaliation claim from an ex-employee.
Southwest Key Programs will pay $68,000 to the employee, the Justice Department said in a Friday news release. DOJ alleged the employee, who it did not name, applied for several jobs at Southwest Key but was denied because he had said he would file a discrimination claim against the organization. If proven, those allegations would have violated federal anti-discrimination law, DOJ said.
Southwest Key operates several facilities in Texas and elsewhere that house immigrant children under the authority of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Those facilities include a former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, converted into a 1,500-bed facility called Casa Padre.
When the Trump administration implemented the wide-scale separation of immigrant families in 2018, Casa Padre and other Southwest Key facilities became controversial symbols of government policy. Southwest Key's founder and CEO, Juan Sanchez, stepped down in March 2019 after investigations into abuse and assault of children detained at its facilities, criticism of the salaries he and his wife were receiving, and allegations that the organization had mismanaged funds.
In a statement Friday, Southwest Key spokesman Neil Nowlin said the organization was committed to preventing discrimination.
"We will strive to do better whenever we can, so that our staff can continue to provide compassionate care to thousands of children and youth each year," Nowlin said.