EEOC sues over criminal background checks at Dollar General

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 12:27am

WASHINGTON — The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed lawsuits Tuesday against discount retailer Dollar General Corp. and a BMW manufacturing plant in South Carolina over their use of criminal background checks to screen out job applicants or fire employees.

In both cases, the agency claims the practice discriminates against African-Americans, who have higher arrest and conviction rates than whites.

The two lawsuits are the first since the agency issued revised guidance last year to warn employers against using overly broad criminal checks in a way that could limit job opportunities for people with past convictions. The commission says it wants to reduce barriers to employment for those with past criminal records who "have been held accountable and paid their dues."

The EEOC alleges that BMW's policy affected dozens of employees working for a contractor that staffed a BMW warehouse in Spartanburg, S.C. The contractor's policy was not to employ anyone with a criminal record within the past seven years. When a new contractor took over the company, BMW ordered a new round of criminal background checks and fired anyone with a criminal record from any year.

Of the 88 workers fired, 70 were black. Some had worked for BMW — through the contractor — for more than a decade, the EEOC alleged in a lawsuit filed in federal district court in Spartanburg. The commission claims the BMW policy is a "blanket exclusion" without any regard for the nature and gravity of the crimes, how old they are, or whether they are relevant to the type of work being performed.

BMW spokeswoman Sky Foster said the company "believes that it has complied with the letter and spirit of the law and will defend itself against the EEOC's allegations of race discrimination."

In the Dollar General case, the EEOC filed a nationwide lawsuit in federal district court in Chicago based on charges of discrimination filed by two rejected black job applicants. One applicant was offered employment even though she disclosed a 6-year-old conviction for possession of a controlled substance, the EEOC said. But her job offer was allegedly revoked because Dollar General's policy was to disqualify anyone who had that type of conviction within the past 10 years.

Another applicant to Dollar General was fired by the company despite the fact that a report showing she had a felony conviction was wrong, the EEOC said. Even after she advised Dollar General of the mistake, the Goodlettsville-based company did not reverse its decision to fire her, the agency claimed.

"Overcoming barriers to employment is one of our strategic enforcement priorities," EEOC spokeswoman Justine Lisser said. "We hope that these lawsuits will further educate the public and the employer community on the appropriate use of conviction records."

A Dollar General spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The EEOC says it attempted to resolve both cases through settlement before filing lawsuits. It is seeking back pay for the rejected applicants and for those fired, as well as injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination.

The new EEOC guidelines issued last year urge employers to give job applicants a chance to explain past criminal misconduct before they are rejected. It also recommends that employers stop asking about past convictions on job applications.

Some employers see the checks as a way to weed out unsavory workers and prevent negligent hiring claims.

9 Comments on this post:

By: pswindle on 6/11/13 at 11:11


By: C.A.Jones on 6/12/13 at 8:49

Last I checked being a criminal wasn't a protected class. Pretty sure I can fire you for being a criminal any time I want.

By: PKVol on 6/12/13 at 9:22

"Some employers see the checks as a way to weed out unsavory workers and prevent negligent hiring claims.

Isn't it in the best interest of a business to not have unsavory workers? Also, with unemployment rates for the type of worker that DG employs probably in the 15-20% range, given the choice to hire someone without a criminal record versus hiring someone with a criminal record, who in their right mind would willingly hire the one with a criminal record?

By: Jughead on 6/12/13 at 11:45

This is another example of Obama's all-out assault on white people and productive people.

Next up: the DOJ sue's DG when one of their criminal employees commits a crime.

I despise the Obama administration. Justice is twisted in the US.

By: Rasputin72 on 6/13/13 at 6:45

When scum becomes a majority factor in a democracy you get lawsuits and rulings that favor scum.

By: rickmuz on 6/13/13 at 7:19

"practice discriminates against African-Americans, who have higher arrest, conviction rates"

Seems to me that it discriminates against people with criminal backgrounds... be they white, black, Asian, Native American or Latino.

By: Jughead on 6/13/13 at 8:17

All part of the destruction of America. Take from the productive and give to the unproductive.

By: budlight on 6/13/13 at 8:54

When is it discrimination to not want to hire a convicted robber to do a job involving handling other people's money and credit cards. I won't do business with a company that hires crooks. Well, look at the crooks hired to work in the White House?

Also, does this mean a day care has to hire a peodophile? (spelled wrong) Or a convicted rapist can get a job at a business that caters only to women? This is wrong. I hope Dollar General prevails and they don't have to hire them or pay them.

And look, if minorities think they have higher crime rates, why not do something about that statistic? Stop committing crimes; start a movement to STOP CRIME BY AND TO MINORITIES! Duh!

By: blitz on 6/13/13 at 11:17

People come on. This isn't a complicated concept so take a minute and think this through. I for one got convicted for trespassing when I was 18 - over 25 years ago. I was swimming with a couple of friends of mine in a subdivision pool. I have nothing on my record since, but BMW contractor would have fired me for said offense even if I had been a model employee. Should I have been denied a chance at a job for a stupid conviction over 25 years prior.

Get a grip and stop being so quick to judge people you know nothing about. The companies are just being lazy in vetting out candidates and employees