Lawsuit against WMATA Alleges Background Check Violations

 Class Action Lawsuit Blogs

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

A class action lawsuit filed against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) claims that WMATA’s criminal background check policy violates the civil rights of African Americans, according to a report by The Washington Post.

The Post reports the class action lawsuit – filed on behalf of nine African American men – alleges WMATA’s background check policy is “overly broad, unjustifiably rigid and unduly harsh” and disproportionately bars qualified African American workers from WMATA jobs.

The class action lawsuit claims WMATA’s background check policy “disqualifies many job applicants and employees based on criminal history that is not related to the job at issue or occurred so long ago — in some cases, 20 or 30 years in the past — that it is irrelevant to any fair determination of employee honesty, reliability or safety.”

The Post reports that the nine plaintiffs claim they were fired from jobs or denied employment with WMATA after a criminal background check. While most plaintiffs had prior convictions for nonviolent felonies, some were found guilty of assault or robbery.

A copy of the class action lawsuit against WMATA – which also names contractors Diamond Transportation, Executive Personnel Services and First Transit as co-defendants – is available on the Washington Post website at http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/documents/local/class-action-suit-against-wmata/1163/.

The criminal background check policies of U.S. employers have come under greater scrutiny in recent years.

In April 2012, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, approved updated Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In March 2014, the EEOC and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a joint publication titled Background Checks: What Employers Need to Know (PDF) to explain how compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and anti-discrimination laws intersect when employers use employment background checks.

In addition, the Ban the Box Movement – named for the box on job applications that applicants check if they have criminal records – is spreading across the United States. According to a Ban the Box Resource Guide from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), nearly 70 cities and counties as well as several states in the U.S. have adopted legislation to remove the question about criminal records from initial job applications and delay the inquiry until later in the hiring process.