When the city of Augusta hired Troy Curry as a laborer in January 2006, and basically rehired him as a meter reader in 2008, he had a nearly 20-year criminal record, including as a drug dealer.
Surprise. He was arrested recently for allegedly selling crack cocaine along his route.
If true, the city basically hired a crack deliveryman.
Nor have the courts covered themselves in glory in this case: Curry was handed a total of 15 years in prison for convictions spanning 1996-2005 -- and, obviously, wasn't even in prison when hired in January 2006.
How could this happen?
The biggest problem may be American labor law: Apparently, a criminal can't be "discriminated" against if the crime in question doesn't directly relate to the tasks required by the job. In addition, according to the city's Human Relations Department, the use of criminal background checks is frowned upon by the federal government.
Decisions not to hire or retain someone "based on the candidate's arrest record are generally improper and may lead to liability for discrimination under Title VII and state anti-discrimination laws on either a disparate treatment or adverse impact theory," says an article provided by Augusta H.R. Director Rod Powell.
In short, Powell writes, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission feels background checks "can have an adverse effect on minority applicants."
"This is why we can't, per se, use criminal background information to disqualify applicants for jobs," Powell wrote to us.
Employers, the article says, must weigh the gravity of the offense, how long ago it was and whether "the job relates to the type of crime committed (e.g., a convicted embezzler seeking an accountant's position)."
Moreover, an employer apparently "must also evaluate whether the applicant actually engaged in the alleged misconduct" -- in other words, judge the job applicant's innocence or guilt for himself, notwithstanding any court verdicts.
Why would anyone hire anyone these days?
We don't know if this legal gobbledygook, or sheer incompetence at City Hall, is to blame. But the facts are the facts: The city of Augusta carelessly hired a convicted drug dealer as a meter reader, a position of some responsibility and contact with the public -- only to find he's been allegedly selling cocaine from his city truck. He was reportedly arrested with 8 grams of it, as well as $1,600.
He had been convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to sell just a year prior to his initial hiring.
One utilities director hired him as laborer, another approved his hiring as a meter reader. Both say they weren't aware of Curry's rap sheet.
We're not suggesting a ban on hiring those with criminal records. It can be a good investment in some people's rehabilitation. But the city has no written policy on it, and two department heads have admitted they had no clue of this man's particular troubles with the law from 1986 to 2004.
No federal law requires hiring with your eyes closed.