EEOC Defends Criminal Background Checks

They’re Permitted Unless …

The EEOC has been slammed in recent weeks for filing discrimination lawsuits against employers who used criminal background checks to assess job applicants that resulted in the disproportionate exclusion of minority group members.

A feEEOCderal judge ridiculed the EEOC in August for a seeming double standard, noting the EEOC itself uses criminal background checks with respect to hiring employees at the EEOC.

Jacqueline A. Berrien, chairperson of the EEOC, recently responded to a July 24,2013 letter from nine state Attorney Generals asking the EEOC to reconsider its April 25, 2012 Enforcement Guidance, Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

She said the Guidance merely clarifies and updates a longstanding EEOC policy and does not prohibit employers from using criminal background checks in hiring.

She said an employer can be held liable for discrimination if it “uniformly administers a criminal background check that disproportionately excludes people of a particular race, national origin, or other protected characteristic, and is not ‘job related for the position(s) in question and consistent with business necessity’ within the meaning of Title VII. However, she said employers can avoid liability by using the EEOC’s recommended two-step process when evaluating criminal history checks of applicants. The EEOC recommends that employers:

1. Use a ‘targeted’ screen of criminal records that considers such factors as the nature of the crime, the time elapsed and the nature of the job.

2. Use a follow-up individualized assessment of employees who are screened out to ensure the employer is “not mistakenly screening out qualified applicants or employees based on incorrect, incomplete, or irrelevant information.” The second step also gives individuals a chance to correct errors in their records.

Berrien said the EEOC’s proposed individualized assessment process does not add significant additional costs for employers.

She said an employer does not have to conduct an individualized assessment “if it can demonstrate that its targeted screen is always job related and consistent with business necessity.”  She called the individualized assessment “a safeguard that can help an employer to avoid liability when it cannot demonstrate that using only its targeted screen would always be job related and consistent with business necessity.”

In August, Judge Roger Titus of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland dismissed a lawsuit brought by the EEOC in 2009 against Freeman, Inc., a service provider for corporate events, which alleged Freeman unlawfully relied upon credit and criminal background checks that caused a disparate impact against African-American, Hispanic, and male job applicants. See EEOC v. Freeman, No. 09-CV-2573 (2013).

Titus notes the EEOC conducts criminal background investigations as a condition of employment for all positions and conducts credit background checks on approximately 90 percent of its positions. He acknowledged that credit and criminal background checks adversely affect some groups more than others but maintained that these checks are essential.

Berrien did not address the issue of background checks conducted by the EEOC on its job applicants.

Earlier, Berrien said recent EEOC lawsuits against BMW and Dollar General did not challenge the employers’ decisions to conduct criminal background checks but instead challenged screening processes that have a disproportionate impact on African-Americans that the commission believes are not job related and consistent with business necessity.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has estimated that approximately 9 percent of all men will serve time in state or federal prisons, including 28 percent of black males, 16 percent of Hispanic males, and 4 percent of white males.

The Attorney Generals who complained about the EEOC policy are from West Virginia, Colorado, Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, South Carolina and Utah.