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Retailer Settles EEOC Background Screening Case

August 27, 2019 | Chris Catalano

On August 9th, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that it reached an agreement with retailer Pier One Imports to resolve a race-discrimination charge in connection with its conduct of a background check.  According to the EEOC’s press release announcing the settlement, the agency “charged that an applicant was denied a position as an assistant manager at the company’s Montclair, Calif., location after a criminal background check was conducted. The EEOC’s investigation determined that the company’s use of criminal records limited the employment opportunity of the job applicant based on his race, black, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

The case involved a complaint from a single applicant rather than a class of applicants.  The Company agreed to pay $20,000 to the complainant without admitting liability. According to the EEOC, the Pier One also “reaffirmed its commitment to Title VII by revising its policies and procedures, eliminating its background screening process, and removing the conviction question from its employment application.”

The release only refers to employer obligations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  No mention is made in the EEOC press release of the EEOC’s criminal history guidance–originally issued in 2012 and currently subject to a legal challenge—although an EEOC spokeswoman referred to the 2012 guidance in an interview about the settlement.

Rosa Viramontes, director of the EEOC’s regional office in Los Angeles stated: “Employers should review their criminal background check policies to ensure they are inclusive for all qualified candidates, regardless of race.”  Unfortunately, the EEOC typically does not provide detailed information about the terms of its settlements so it is unclear what the EEOC press release means when it says Pier One is “eliminating” its background screening process.

Background screening is permissible in accordance with applicable legal requirements.  Employers should consider reviewing their background screening practices and application practices with respect to requesting criminal history information from applicants, particularly if a review has not recently been undertaken.  While the EEOC’s action was brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, many states and localities also have laws, ordinances and regulations governing the use of criminal history information for employment purposes as well as requesting criminal history information during the application process.

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