EEOC Steps Up Enforcement Actions Based on Employer Use of Criminal Background Checks
Employers probably recall that last year the EEOC published guidance on the use of criminal background checks in the hiring process. This led many to forecast that the EEOC would be stepping up its enforcement efforts in this area. Well, earlier this month the EEOC filed lawsuits against two different companies, BMW Manufacturing and Dollar General, alleging that their criminal background check policies discriminated against black applicants in violation of Title VII. According to the lawsuit against BMW, BMW had a policy that barred employment to applicants with certain criminal convictions regardless of how old the conviction was, the nature or gravity of the offense, or the nature of the employment position sought. The EEOC charged that BMW's policy had a disparate impact on blacks and constituted unlawful employment discrimination.
In the case against Dollar General, the EEOC similarly alleges that Dollar General's criminal conviction policy disparately impacts black applicants. That lawsuit arose out of two administrative charges filed with the EEOC by rejected applicants. In one case, the applicant had a six-year old drug conviction. Dollar General's policy was to consider this type of conviction a bar to employment if the conviction was less than 10 years old. As such, the applicant was not hired. In the other case, the applicant's background check revealed a felony conviction but the applicant insisted that the report was wrong. Although she informed Dollar General of the mistake, she still was not hired. The EEOC is now challenging Dollar General's criminal convictions policy as a whole. In both cases, the EEOC seeks back pay as well as injunctive relief. The EEOC's press release regarding these two lawsuits is available here.
The EEOC's increased attention and enforcement efforts in this area serve as a reminder to employers of the need to review their criminal background check policies (as well as similar questions on employment applications) to try to ensure the policies pass muster under the EEOC's guidance. California employers must also be mindful that California has some additional restrictions on the scope of criminal background checks used for employment purposes (e.g. California Labor Code section 432.8, which prohibits employers from considering certain marijuana-related convictions in making employment decisions). Thus, California employers need to ensure that their policies and procedures comply with both federal EEOC guidance and California law.