EEOC Cracks Down on Consideration of Criminal Convictions in Hiring

By: Gabrielle Valentine

While reducing recidivism has been the driving force behind the Ban the Box initiative, the Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“the Guidance”) sheds a new light on the importance of employers following fair hiring standards.[1]  Although the Guidance is not binding on courts, it is of great significance to employers because many courts defer to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and companies not complying with EEOC regulations risk being sued by the EEOC.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers may not treat a current or potential employee differently than other current or potential employees on the basis of a protected class such as race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.[2]  This prohibits employers from engaging in activities such as hiring, firing, or demoting based on a protected class.  Title VII also prohibits employers from engaging in standard operating practices and procedures that, while seemingly neutral and non-discriminatory on their face, ultimately have the effect of discriminating against a particular protected class.

Prior to enacting the Guidance, the EEOC recognized that for the previous twenty years, the number of people having contact with the criminal justice system was significantly increasing in the working-age population.[3]  Specifically, the EEOC recognized that arrest and incarceration rates were particularly high for African-American and Hispanic men.[4]  The EEOC notes that African-Americans are arrested two to three times more frequently that others of the general population.[5]  While statistics predict that 1 in 17 white men will spend time in prison during their lifetime, 1 in 6 Hispanic men and 1 in 3 African-American men are expected to serve time in a prison.[6]  Thus, an employer may violate Title VII two ways: (1) if, based on race or national origin, he treats criminal history information differently for different applicants or employees, or (2) he has a practice of uniformly considering arrest and conviction records that, on its face seem non-discriminatory, but actually has the effect of excluding African-Americans and Hispanics from the workplace because of the statistically proven higher arrest and conviction rates.[7]

The EEOC Guidance provides that, for an employer to have a practice of considering an applicant’s criminal history without risking liability under Title VII, the consideration of applicants’ criminal history must be job-related and consistent with business necessity.[8] In determining whether the conviction is consistent with business necessity, the EEOC will consider the following factors: (1) the nature and gravity of the offense or conduct, (2) the time that has passed since the offense or conduct and/or completion of the sentence, and (3) the nature of the job held or sought.[9]

EEOC Pic

While the EEOC did not see much initial success in the enforcement of the Guidance, two recent lawsuits against BMW Manufacturing and Dolgencorp indicate EEOC’s interest in the enforcement of fair hiring standards.  In its suit against BMW, the EEOC alleged that BMW’s background check has a disparate impact on African-Americans by depriving them of employment with BMW and BMW’s logistic services providers.[10]

However, the EEOC faces much opposition because of its practice to conduct background checks when hiring for most positions.  In response to the EEOC’s complaint, BMW filed a motion to compel documents that describe the EEOC’s hiring process in relation to criminal background checks.[11]  The EEOC objected on the grounds that its hiring practices were not relevant to the issue of whether BMW’s practices were consistent with business necessity.[12]  The EEOC’s relentlessness in pursuing “violations” of Title VII in relation to criminal background checks marks the potential for a future of litigation.

Ultimately, the Ban the Box movement is nothing short of a win-win policy for everyone involved.  Not only does the community benefit from reduced recidivism, but following the Guidance shields employers from the risk of EEOC liability while greatly expanding the pool of qualified applicants since many applicants with a criminal history are deterred from even applying for a job.  Furthermore, the “business necessity” analysis applied by the EEOC shields the employer from negligent hiring claims because, for the most part, employers considering the nature of the offense, the time that has passed since the offense, and the nature of the job held or sought will not hire employees that pose a significant threat to the workplace.

[1] The Ban the Box initiative is a movement that asks employers to refrain from requiring individuals to disclose criminal convictions on initial applications. For more information about Ban the Box and the clinic’s work with the initiative please see the following: https://cslcivilrights.com/2014/03/13/i-am-not-my-record/.

[2] Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e

[3] EEOC Decision No. 915.002, Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (2012).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Complaint, EEOC v. BMW Mfg. Co., LLC.

[11] Defendant’s Motion to Compel Production of Documents, EEOC v. BWM Mfg. Co., LLC.

[12] Brief in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion to Compel Production of Documents, EEOC v. BWM Mfg. Co., LLC.

One Response to EEOC Cracks Down on Consideration of Criminal Convictions in Hiring

  1. Brittany Moore says:

    Wonderful article! As most have found out a criminal history significantly reduces an individual’s access to not only jobs but also education, voting, and other fundamental rights most take for granted. Another win for the league fighting for equality and disparaging misconceptions related to criminal histories and an individual’s ability to excel in the workplace!

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