Theater Chain Routinely Checks Social Security Numbers of Staff

By Cameron W. Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 30, 2006

AMC Entertainment, the nation's second-largest movie theater operator, routinely screens employees to ensure they have valid Social Security numbers, the company said Friday, a process that exceeds what the law requires of employers.

At one area multiplex owned by AMC, the Rio 18 in Gaithersburg, 11 employees "decided to resign" this month after they could not rectify discrepancies that arose during the screening, said Melanie Bell, a spokeswoman for AMC Entertainment Inc., which is based in Kansas City, Mo. She said such screening is a routine procedure that the company conducts across the United States.

Until January, when AMC merged with Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corp., the Rio 18 was operated by Loews, as many signs still indicate at Washingtonian Center, where the theater is.

Bell said she did not know whether such screening had occurred at the Rio 18 and 115 other Loews theaters that AMC absorbed as part of the merger. Managers at the Rio 18 declined to comment.

The combined entity operates about 415 theaters in 29 states, the District and 11 other countries. It employs 24,000 people.

Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, said the company is going further than what the law asks of employers, which is to ensure that employees present proof of legal status that appears to be authentic.

He noted that on April 19, the Department of Homeland Security raided facilities belonging to a U.S. subsidiary of IFCO Systems, a Dutch maker of shipping materials, detaining 1,187 illegal immigrants and arresting seven managers. IFCO said it is cooperating with federal authorities and is committed to complying with citizenship and employment laws.

The raids, Papademetriou said, "have probably made some employers particularly sensitive to potential charges by DHS."

Bell said the raids had not influenced AMC, which she said has long submitted lists of its employees' Social Security numbers to the Social Security Administration for review. If discrepancies arise, she said in an e-mailed response to questions, "we require the worker to provide their original Social Security card within 3 days or to immediately contact the local SSA office." She said the process is part of payroll tax verification and occurs after hiring.

Dean Boyd, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement at DHS, said the company's procedure "is certainly a step above and beyond what is required of them."

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