Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice has sent a letter to Amazon that expresses “profound concern” over recently implemented policies on background checks by the company that resulted in the mass termination of dozens of primarily Black and Latino Amazon drivers, including the firing of 30-40 such employees on a single day in the Boston, MA area.
In the open letter sent to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Oren Sellstrom, the Litigation Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, explains how these background checks “unnecessarily bar qualified individuals from being employed as Amazon drivers based not on job performance, but rather based solely on past contact with the criminal justice system.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Along with intentional discrimination, the letter also explains how Title VII also bars “disparate impact” discrimination that has “an unjustified and disproportionate impact” on protected classes of minorities such as Blacks and Latinos.
Due to “over-policing and over-incarceration of communities of color” in recent years, the letter states that use of criminal background checks by employers “often has a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino communities, and can easily run afoul of Title VII.” As a result, background checks that affect minorities must be job-related and justified by a “business necessity.”
On April 25, 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – the agency that enforces federal employment anti-discrimination laws – issued updated “Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964” to show how background checks may violate Title VII.
The letter quotes the EEOC guidance that explains: “Factors relevant to whether a background check policy violates Title VII include what offenses are considered, the time elapsed since the offense, and the nature of the job in question.” The EEOC also emphasizes the important of “an opportunity for an individualized assessment for people excluded” by the background checks.
The Amazon policies that terminate drivers based on background checks “raise serious concerns surrounding unlawful employment discrimination” since the firings fall “disproportionately on Black and Latino drivers” and the company “does not appear to engage in any process for individualized review, nor provide any opportunity for individuals to explain their record.”
To demonstrate Amazon’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness, the letter concludes with a request for a written explanation of Amazon’s policies on background checks on drivers, detailed information concerning the impact of that policy on people of color, and an opportunity to meet with Amazon executive leadership to discuss concerns expressed in the letter in greater detail.
The Boston Globe reported that a statement from Amazon indicated “safety and customer trust” are why the company requires delivery service providers to conduct background checks on drivers and that these checks are “focused on job-related criminal and motor vehicle convictions and [do] not consider race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or other protected characteristics.”
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