JUNE 14, 2013
Though convicts don’t get special protections under the nation’s civil rights laws, the federal government is spending taxpayer dollars suing two large companies that run criminal background checks on job applicants because they disproportionately exclude blacks from hire.
This violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the nation’s workplace discrimination laws. The agency claims that an American unit of German car manufacturer BMW and Dollar General, the nation’s largest small-box discount retailer, use criminal background checks improperly when hiring.
That’s because they eliminate potential employees based on the criminal checks instead of reviewing each applicant and taking the crime into consideration. The automatic ban has had the effect of discriminating against black job applicants, according to the EEOC, which says it has the right to sue because information about prior convictions is being used to discriminate against a racial or ethnic group. Thus the alleged violation of civil rights laws.
BMW and Dollar General are “very serious systematic race discrimination cases,” according to the EEOC’s general counsel. The agency found “statistical disparities” in the hiring rates of “blacks and nonblacks” after the companies ran criminal-background checks. Dollar General revoked conditional employment offers for 10% of its black applicants but only 7% of “nonblack” applicants during a three-year period, the EEOC revealed, calling it a “gross disparity” based on race.
BMW’s offense was requiring that employees of a new logistics contractor undergo criminal background checks in 2008. Of the 645 employees who would work at the auto maker’s South Carolina plant, 88 were terminated based on their criminal record. The EEOC says because 80% of the terminated employees were black, BMW “disproportionately screened out African Americans from jobs.”
Since Obama became president, the EEOC has pushed hard to deter companies from using criminal background checks to screen job applicants because the administration says it discriminates against blacks. Last year soft drink manufacturer Pepsi Co. paid $3.13 million to settle EEOC charges that its screening policy discriminates against blacks by improperly using criminal checks.
The EEOC’s investigation revealed that more than 300 African Americans were adversely affected when Pepsi applied a criminal background check policy that disproportionately excluded black applicants from permanent employment. The cash was mostly divided among black applicants cut over criminal records and Pepsi agreed to “re-examine its policy and modify it to ensure that unwarranted roadblocks to employment are removed.”
A few years ago the EEOC bullied a national healthcare firm into paying nearly half a million dollars to settle a discrimination lawsuit for requiring employees to speak English on the job, even though federal law allows employers to require it. The EEOC found that enforcing an English-only rule against Hispanics violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by committing national origin discrimination against the Spanish speakers. Years earlier, the EEOC sued the Christian charity Salvation Army for national origin discrimination because it required two Hispanic employees at its Massachusetts thrift store to speak English on the job.
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