Last week, a federal district court judge in Maryland dismissed, without a trial, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Title VII suit against Freeman over alleged discriminatory background checks based largely on fatal flaws in the EEOC’s expert report—described by the court as “an egregious example of scientific dishonesty.”
In dismissing the lawsuit, the Court focused on the factual failings of the EEOC’s statistical expert. The opinion also provides the most scathing indictment to date of the EEOC’s position on the use of criminal background checks by employers. Despite its length, it’s worth reprinting in its entirety:
For many employers, conducting a criminal history or credit record background check on a potential employee is a rational and legitimate component of a reasonable hiring process. The reasons for conducting such checks are obvious. Employers have a clear incentive to avoid hiring employees who have a proven tendency to defraud or steal from their employers, engage in workplace violence, or who otherwise appear to be untrustworthy and unreliable….
The present case is only one of a series of actions recently brought by the EEOC against employers who rely on criminal background and/or credit history checks in making hiring decisions. For example, in two recent complaints filed against discount retailer Dollar General Corp. and car manufacturer BMW, the EEOC claimed that those employers improperly used criminal background checks to bar potential employees, resulting in a disparate impact on African-American applicants….
Indeed, the higher incarceration rate [of African-Americans than Caucasians] might cause one to fear that any use of criminal history information would be in violation of Title VII. However, this is simply not the case. Careful and appropriate use of criminal history information is an important, and in many cases essential, part of the employment process of employers throughout the United States. As Freeman points out, even the EEOC conducts criminal background investigations as a condition of employment for all employees, and conducts credit background checks on approximately 90 percent of its positions….
By bringing actions of this nature, the EEOC has placed many employers in the “Hobson’s choice” of ignoring criminal history and credit background, thus exposing themselves to potential liability for criminal and fraudulent acts committed by employees, on the one hand, or incurring the wrath of the EEOC for having utilized information deemed fundamental by most employers. Something more, far more, than what is relied upon by the EEOC in this case must be utilized to justify a disparate impact claim based upon criminal history and credit checks. To require less, would be to condemn the use of common sense, and this is simply not what the discrimination laws of this country require.
This case is an important first step towards a reasoned and rational understanding of the role of criminal background checks for employers.