Federal Agency Thinks Background Checks Can Discriminate Against Blacks, Hispanics

Op-ed submission by Project 21

Washington, D.C. – Attorneys at the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission believe new technology that makes it easier for employers to check the criminal and credit histories of applicants is also makes it harder for blacks and Hispanics to find jobs. Members of the Project 21 black leadership network fault this position, noting that it unjustly interferes with the ability of employers to build a trusted and coherent workforce.

“Background and credit checks are legitimate hiring and recruitment tools,” said Project 21 member Horace Cooper, a former visiting assistant professor of law at the George Mason University School of Law. “There is no federal law making a refusal to hire convicted felons a crime, and felon status is not a protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Especially in the midst of a recession, suits like these — which charge racial discrimination — falsely serve to only make hiring decisions unnecessarily harder and lessen the impact of real allegations of racism.”

Adrienne Hudson filed a lawsuit against First Transit after she was fired from a bus driver position with the company. She alleges her firing was due to her prior conviction for welfare fraud, and that First Transit discriminates against blacks and Hispanics when it does background checks because these minority groups have higher rates of arrest and convictions than whites. First Transit representatives would not comment.

The AP reports the EEOC believes background checks can have a disparate impact on blacks and Hispanics, and quotes EEOC assistant legal counsel Carol Miaskoff saying “the problem is snowballing because of the technology” that is making it easier to do such checks.

Last fall, the EEOC filed a class-action lawsuit against the Freeman Companies event-planning company that claimed the company’s background checks discriminated against blacks, Hispanics and men.

“Once again, the liberal legal theory of ‘disparate impact’ is trotted out. This time, it is by the bean-counters at EEOC. They are now arguing that if an employer conducts background checks on employees they are, in effect, discriminating against black and Latino applicants. But shouldn’t employers have the right to set standards for those they seek to employ and reject those who have criminal records?” said Project 21 member Joe Hicks, host of “The Hicks File” at PJTV.com “Americans strongly believe in the concept of redemption, but there must be consequences for illegal behavior. To claim otherwise suggests that employers should ignore employment standards and simply hire people based on some ideological concept of ‘social justice.’ The notion that criminal background checks disadvantage blacks and Latinos is based in the reality that blacks are 38 percent of the prison population but only 12 percent of the general population. This shouldn’t be used as an argument for eliminating employment standards, but a reason to understand and combat the dysfunction and violent criminality that’s an all-too-real part of poor black urban life.”

Project 21, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research, has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992.

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