The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against Dollar General Corp. earlier this week based on the company’s use of criminal background checks for new hires and employees. The civil lawsuit claims that the retailer has “engaged in ongoing, nationwide race discrimination against black applicants” for almost a decade. The EEOC contends that the use of criminal background checks affects blacks disproportionately. As a firm that handles as significant number of employment discrimination claims the outcome of this case will be interesting.
The EEOC filed suit on behalf of two black former applicants who had jobs or job offers rescinded following a background check. According to the EEOC, one case involved a woman who had disclosed a felony conviction of controlled possession six years prior to her hiring. Shortly after beginning work, she was fired when the felony conviction and a misdemeanor conviction for possession of drug paraphernalia appeared on a background report.
The other case involved a female who contends that she was fired because of a background check that wrongly included a felony conviction. The EEOC said that the company refused to hire the woman even after learning of the error. The lawsuit claims that the employees were victims of a hiring policy that unilaterally bans individuals with certain convictions within specific time frames from working for the company.
An EEOC spokesperson stated that the federal agency is seeking to overcome barriers to employment. In addition, it was the agency’s hope that the “lawsuits would further educate the public and the employer community on the appropriate use of conviction records.”
Dollar General contends that its background check process is created “to foster a safe and healthy environment for its employees, its customers and to protect its assets in a lawful, reasonable and non-discriminatory manner.”
But how could this case affect you? Looking at a much broader view, the outcome of this case could affect companies as well as potential job applicants throughout the country.
If the EEOC is successful, companies may be required to review exactly how their background checks are used in determining whether to hire an employee. While this case will certainly not require that companies hire criminals or prohibit the use of background checks, it could impact the hiring process. It is possible that an outcome favorable to the EEOC could alter the way companies automatically disqualify job applicants without any process for individualized review.
If Dollar General is successful, the hiring process for companies would remain the status quo. However, at the least, this suit brings about an awareness of potential discriminatory hiring practices in areas previously not recognized as discriminatory.