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Changes may prompt review of background check policies

August 14, 2013
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Indiana Lawyer Focus

For more than 20 years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken the position that an employer’s use of applicants’ criminal history in making employment decisions may constitute discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. The underlying premise has always been that because minorities are historically and statistically arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than their representation in the general population, the use of criminal records by employers in making hiring and retention decisions may be discriminatory.

erdel-katherine.jpg Erdel

The EEOC’s enforcement guidance

Citing increased access to criminal history information as motivation, the EEOC issued an updated “Enforcement Guidance” memo on this topic in April of 2012. This past June, the EEOC filed two lawsuits against employers alleging that the employers’ respective criminal background policies violated Title VII. The lawsuits both seem to highlight the EEOC’s increased interest in the potential discriminatory impact of employers’ use of criminal records in employment decisions.

In EEOC v. BMW Manufacturing Co., LLC, pending in the U.S. District Court of South Carolina, the EEOC alleges that BMW’s background check policy disproportionately screened out African-Americans and that the policy is not job related or consistent with business necessity. The second suit, a nationwide lawsuit pending in District Court in Chicago, EEOC v. Dolgencorp (which does business as Dollar General), addresses discrimination charges filed by two rejected black applicants. That suit alleges that Dollar General conditions its job offers on criminal background checks and that the policy results in a disparate impact against blacks.

Indiana law

States, including Indiana, are also showing an increased interest in this area. Though there is no federal law or law in Indiana prohibiting employers from using criminal background information in the hiring process, a new state background check law includes several provisions aimed at limiting the types of information that may be disclosed to employers in Indiana.

Effective July 1, 2013, House Enrolled Act 1033 (2012) permits Indiana residents with restricted or sealed criminal records to state on an employment application that they have not been adjudicated, arrested or convicted of the offense included in the restricted records. On the flip side, the new law prohibits employers from asking about sealed and restricted criminal records, and courts are prohibited from disclosing information related to certain infractions. For example, a court cannot disclose information related to an infraction (which generally includes traffic citations and other minor violations) when the individual has satisfied the judgment and five years has passed since that satisfaction. Criminal history providers may be penalized for violating this law, including up to $1,000 for a first violation, up to $5,000 for a second violation, actual damages, liquidated damages, and costs and attorney’s fees. The text of the bill can be found at: http://www.in.gov/legislative/bills/2012/HE/HE1033.1.html.

Appropriate use of criminal history information

While Indiana law and the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance provide clear guidance on certain prohibited conduct, many employers are still unclear on what they can and should do to appropriately use criminal history information in the hiring process. In its Enforcement Guidance, which can be found at www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/arrest_conviction.cfm, the EEOC concludes that employers cannot exclude an applicant from employment based on an arrest record alone. The EEOC also recommends that “employers not ask about convictions on job applications and that, if and when [employers] make such inquiries, the inquiries be limited to convictions for which exclusion would be job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.”

Policy validation under the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance

The EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance goes on to suggest two methods under which an employer may be able to “validate” that its background check policy and use of criminal records to exclude individuals from employment is job related and consistent with business necessity.

The first involves validation using Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures, found at 29 C.F.R §1607. However, the EEOC seems to acknowledge that this particular method is currently unworkable given the limited amount of empirical data on the links between certain conduct, criminal histories and job performance. As a result, most employers will likely need to rely upon the second method to determine whether its policies and practices are job related and consistent with business necessity.

Under the second method proposed by the EEOC, an employer first develops a “targeted screen” that considers, at a minimum, the nature of the crime, the time elapsed since the offense or completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job. After an applicant has been preliminarily disqualified by the screen, the employer conducts an individualized assessment to determine whether the screen, as applied, is actually job related and consistent with business necessity.

For example, if employer XYZ determines that any individual who has been convicted of embezzlement in a business setting in the last five years should be preliminarily disqualified from a job as an accounting department manager, XYZ has likely created a reasonable “targeted screen” that takes into account the three factors required by the EEOC. However, when applicant John Doe applies for an accounting department manager position and is preliminarily screened out because of his four-year-old embezzlement conviction, XYZ must then talk with Mr. Doe and conduct an individualized assessment.

The EEOC provides a list of criteria that employers should consider in the course of an individualized assessment: whether the individual identified in the report is the same individual who has applied for the position; the facts or circumstances surrounding the conduct; the number of offenses; older age at the time of conviction or release; evidence that the individual has performed the same type of work successfully post-conviction; the length and consistency of employment history before and after the conduct; rehabilitation efforts (like education or training); employment or character references or other information regarding fitness for the position; and whether the individual is bonded under a state or local bonding program. Only after considering all of these factors should XYZ make its ultimate decision as to whether or not to hire Mr. Doe.

Simple, right? Not quite. As interest grows in this area and as the courts involved hand down decisions on related cases, additional guidance and examples should be forthcoming. In the meantime, all attorneys, especially those who advise employers, should familiarize themselves with the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance and HEA 1033 (2012).•

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Katherine G. Erdel is a member of Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP’s Labor and Employment Practice Group, focusing her practice in the areas of discrimination defense, wage and hour advice, general workplace policies, and employment agreements and covenants not to compete. Kate regularly advises clients in these areas and is familiar with background checks, pre-employment inquiries and other employment best-practice issues. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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