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Corruption Chronicles

Feds Push States to Ban “Discriminatory” Background Checks

Pressured by the federal government, states and municipalities across the U.S. are adopting senseless measures restricting employers from asking job applicants about criminal history.

The Obama administration claims criminal background checks are discriminatory because they disproportionately exclude minorities—especially blacks—from hire. That’s why the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the nation’s workplace discrimination laws, is spending taxpayer dollars suing companies that run criminal background checks on job applicants.

Besides litigation, the administration is working behind the scenes by offering local governments “guidance” on passing measures banning criminal background checks. The laws are known as “ban the box” because they call for removing the question and check box that asks candidates if they’ve been convicted of a crime. So far three states have passed laws prohibiting employers from asking about criminal history and dozens of municipalities nationwide—including those in Ohio, Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware—have done the same, according to a nonprofit that advocates for workers’ rights.

Minnesota became the last state to pass a “ban the box” law a few months ago. The measure, which takes effect in 2014, prohibits employers from asking an applicant about his or her criminal history or performing a background check until the applicant has been selected for an interview or extended an offer of employment. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) celebrated Minnesota’s law, writing in a press relese that  as “Americans we believe in second chances.”

A legal news site notes that “of particular relevance to the Minnesota restrictions is the recent guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding criminal background checks. That guidance expresses the EEOC’s view that employers should not deny employment based on arrest records and should utilize conviction records only after evaluating the nature of the job, the severity of the conviction, the time elapsed since the conviction and the applicant’s rehabilitative efforts.”

Bottom line: The feds are coercing local governments to make it illegal for private companies to properly vet job candidates. Assisting in the national movement is a “community organization” in California called Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. The group helped coin the phrase “ban the box,” claiming that the questions translate into “lifelong discrimination and exclusion because of a past arrest or conviction record.”

Just a few weeks ago a federal judge hearing one of the Obama administration’s many background-check discrimination cases in Maryland blasted the claims, calling them “laughable,” “distorted,” “cherry-picked,” “worthless” and “an egregious example of scientific dishonesty.” The lashing was delivered in a 34-page opinion lambasting the government’s expert data against a family-owned company that started using background checks after being a victim of embezzlement, theft, drug use and workplace violence.


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