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EEOC targets improper use of criminal background checks

Earlier this month, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed two lawsuits against employers for illegally using criminal background checks to screen potential employees and even fire individuals who had already been hired. The move by the EEOC protects not only prospective workers from discrimination, but also current employees from wrongful termination.

In the first case, the EEOC filed suit against a BMW plant located in South Carolina. According to the compliant, the BMW plant disproportionately screened out African American job applicants and used criteria not related to job necessity. The claimants in this suit were individuals who worked for a contractor at the BMW plant. Although the contractor screened its employees for prior criminal convictions, it limited its search to the past seven years. BMW policy had no time limitation. After a re-screen of employees, BMW discovered that several people who had been working in the plant for years had prior criminal convictions. They were immediately terminated, even though BMW policy allowed no consideration of the time of conviction or the specific circumstances of each individual. 

In the second case, the EEOC filed suit in Chicago against Dollar General stores. The EEOC claims that Dollar General makes passing a criminal background check a condition of employment. This policy, however, disproportionately impacts African American job candidates.

As the EEOC points out, it has repeatedly advised employers that they may only use criminal background checks in a way that does not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating in hiring on the basis of race. 

Source: EEOC.gov, “EEOC files suit against two employers for use of criminal background checks,” June 11, 2013

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