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Race discrimination through criminal background checks

For the majority of people employed in Minnesota and states around the country, the fact that an employer will probably conduct a criminal background check on them at some point may not be particularly alarming. However, there is evidence that many employers use the information to make important hiring decisions, committing race discrimination and breaking the law in the process.

The Wall Street Journal estimates that the vast majority of employers vet prospective hires by using information provided in credit and criminal background checks. This practice is legal as long and employers do not base decisions on such documents. Employers risk acting outside the law if and when they aren’t consistent in their hiring practices or illustrate that their actions are racially motivated. 

Even though the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) outlines these legal guidelines and Minnesota has instituted its own ban-the-box regulations to prohibit the practice of requiring job applicants to immediately disclose criminal history, discriminatory employment practices persist.

According to the work of one Princeton sociologist, whites with a criminal record have a much easier time gaining employment than African Americans. This discrepancy may be attributed to the fact that minority groups are far more vulnerable to some types of arrests. Therefore, minority groups are also increasingly subject to the illegal use of background checks in the workplace.

The EEOC just recently filed two race discrimination lawsuits against two major companies. One suit highlights two complaints of prospective hires allegedly being turned down because of their criminal records. The other accuses an auto maker of dismissing an employee with more than 10 years of experience for an old misdemeanor offense.    

Until all employers comply with current federal regulations regarding the proper use of information like criminal background checks, millions of employees may be vulnerable to discriminatory employment practices. 

Source: rawstory.com, “U.S. employment commission: Some criminal background checks are racist,” Stephan C. Webster, June 12, 2013

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