Labor & Employment

Lawsuits Challenge Companies that Reject Applicants with Criminal Backgrounds

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Several lawsuits are challenging corporate policies that bar the hiring of people with criminal backgrounds, with varying results.

The suits follow an increase in criminal background checks, made possible by better Internet information and a proliferation of companies that do the screening, the New York Times reports. The suits are based on both federal and state laws.

Some suits cite new “redemption research” finding that the risk of a new arrest by an ex-offender decreases over time. After seven to 10 years, the risk of a new arrest for a one-time offender is the same as the risk of arrest for a nonoffender of the same age, the story says.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed several suits, and at least seven are still pending, according to the Times. Federal law doesn’t prohibit discrimination based on criminal background. But the EEOC has adopted guidelines that say a blanket ban on such hiring discriminates against minorities that have higher rates of convictions, violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The EEOC lost one case against the employment agency Peoplemark after it was unable to provide expert evidence supporting its bias claim, the Times says.

Plaintiffs were more successful in suits citing the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which requires companies to notify job applicants when they are rejected because of a criminal background check by a consumer reporting agency. Plaintiffs won settlements in at least three of the cases, the Times says.

The Attorney General’s office in New York has cited protective state laws, winning settlements with companies such as Radio Shack and ChoicePoint.

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