As we’ve blogged about before, the EEOC has become more aggressive over the past few years in scrutinizing employer use of criminal background and credit checks. While federal anti-discrimination laws do not expressly prohibit employers from performing background checks or similar screening methods on employees or applicants, their use can be unlawful where the practice has a “disparate impact” on protected classes of employees under Title VII. Recently, the EEOC has issued Guidance documents focusing on disparate impact cases involving criminal history and credit checks, all as part of its interest in “systemic” forms of discrimination. In addition to issuing guidance limiting when and how employers can use criminal and credit history background checks in employment, the EEOC has been actively investigating specific employers, as some readers of this blog are undoubtedly all too aware. In some cases, the EEOC has even initiated lawsuits challenging employers’ use of background checks. For example, the EEOC has filed suit just a few weeks ago against Dollar General (EEOC v. Dollar General, No. 1:13-cv-04307, Illinois) and BMW (EEOC v. BMW Manufacturing Co., LLC, No. 7:13-cv-01583-HMH-JDA, South Carolina).
Many employers and employment attorneys who have argued that appropriate use of background checks can be important and necessary believe the EEOC is going too far. Those employers have complained that the EEOC’s aggressive position presumes the use of criminal or credit background checks is per se unlawful and amounts to a de facto ban on their use under any circumstances, regardless of whether or not they result in an unlawful disparate impact. If you are one of those raising such concerns, federal judges may be listening. A few weeks ago, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court in Maryland issued an opinion granting summary judgment dismissal in another of the EEOC’s enforcement lawsuits, EEOC v. Freeman (No. 1:10-cv-2882, Maryland). The scathing opinion by U. S. District Court Judge Roger Titus held that the EEOC’s evidence was unreliable and failed to raise a question of fact or show Freeman’s background check policies created a disparate impact in violation of Title VII.Continue Reading Maryland Federal District Court’s Dismissal of EEOC v. Freeman Provides Guidance for Employers on Background Check Rules