Crime & Courts Richmond Co. | Columbia Co. | Aiken Co. |

Ga., SC defend screening criminals

However, advocacy groups say ex-cons deserve a second chance

Monday, July 29, 2013 7:59 AM
Last updated 6:39 PM
  • Follow Crime & courts

When the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission started suing businesses for denying jobs to former convicts, the attorneys general of Georgia and South Carolina and seven other states began fighting back.

They sent a letter to the agency saying they were defending all U.S. businesses’ access to criminal screening as well as upholding some of their state laws that prohibit hiring former criminals in certain positions like daycare workers. But the EEOC argues refusal to hire people who have criminal records results in illegal -- if unintentional -- racial discrimination because more blacks than whites are behind bars.

The issue sets up a complex tug-of-war between competing policy interests.

On one hand is the desire to reduce burdens on businesses to begin hiring the types of workers they have confidence in. On the other is the goal of getting those who have paid their debt to society into productive employment so they’ll pay taxes, support their families and won’t be tempted to commit new crimes.

“It is sometimes difficult for employers to navigate all the details,” said Sarah H. Lamar, a labor lawyer with HunterMaclean in Savannah, Ga.

R. Daniel Beal, a labor lawyer with McKenna Long & Aldridge, one of the nation’s largest law firms, says the conflict puts employers in the middle.

“An employer can be caught between complying with a state law that has a blanket rule (against hiring one with a conviction for certain jobs) and the EEOC guidance,” he said.

Advocates for former prisoners argue that because most convictions are drug related and not for violent crimes or theft, then a conviction shouldn’t automatically disqualify a job applicant who might otherwise be well suited.

“With our clients, we always remember that a human being’s life is worth more than the worse decision they ever made. Once a person has gone to prison and done their time, we have to give them opportunities to turn over a new leaf,” said Sara Totonchi, executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Employment is difficult enough for anyone in this economy, but doubly so for a former inmate. Most end up in low-skill/low-wage jobs with no real responsibility.

Even state government can frustrate them. For example, Georgia prisons teach barbering skills to prepare inmates for jobs on the outside, but the state’s licensing board used to automatically reject any application that included a past conviction. That’s since changed, but other examples exist, advocates say.

Every year in the United States, 600,000 people leave prison. Blacks make up more than 40 percent even though they amount to only about 10 percent of the U.S. population.

That’s why the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has made it a priority to eliminate obstacles to their hiring. It worked with the EEOC on developing the agency’s newfound emphasis on criminal-background screening.

“The issue is making sure that employers know they should not discriminate against who have paid their debt to society,” said Hilary Shelton, the national organization’s senior vice president for policy.

In April, 2012, the agency issued a “guidance” which doesn’t have the force of a law but is meant to inform employers about the leanings of the administration. It said employers shouldn’t automatically reject applicants with a conviction but rather look at the individual circumstances of the crime, how long ago it happened and whether it applies to the job in question.

Several attorneys general raised objections.

Then last month, EEOC attorneys filed federal lawsuits against BMW Manufacturing in Spartanburg, S.C., and Dollar General stores in Chicago.

BMW changed subcontractors in its parts warehouse, and before the workers could move from the old subcontractor to the new one, BMW insisted on terminating any with a past conviction. Of the 88 workers fired, 80 percent were black, according to the suit, including some who had work in the warehouse for a dozen years.

Dollar General has a longstanding rule not to hire former convicts in its stores. Between 2004-07, it rejected 7 percent of non-black applicants and 10 percent of black applicants once convictions turned up in background checks despite initially offering them jobs conditional on the screening.

“The gross disparity in the rates at which black and non-black conditionally employees were discharged on account of defendant’s criminal background-check policy is statistically significant,” the EEOC lawyers wrote in the suit.

Both companies refused to budge when EEOC tried to negotiate.

Last week Dollar General issued a statement endorsing the stance of the attorneys general.

“We believe the letter is well-reasoned and grounded in both the law and common sense,” the statement read.

In their letter, the state officials argued that the EEOC is going beyond its mission to police discrimination on the basis of age, sex, race, religion and nationality.

“But no matter how unfair a bright-line, criminal-background check might seem to some, it is not your agency’s role to expand the protections of (the Civil Rights Act) under the pretext of preventing racial discrimination,” the attorneys general wrote. “If Congress wishes to protect former criminals from employment discrimination, it can amend the law.”

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said the nine letter signers are watching to see the legal reasoning in the lawsuits before deciding whether to join them as parties.

Background checks have saved lives, according to Olens. And so, failing to do them could open businesses to lawsuits from the victims of any new crimes by an employee with a criminal record, he said.

“In this world that we live in with sexual predators and whatever, clearly you have to check the criminal background of your son or daughters’ Little League coach,” he said. “And in this litigious world we live in, you have to expect that a parent would sue an employer for negligence if something happened.”

Comments (34) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Young Fred
Young Fred 07/30/13 - 08:46 am

Right on! Right on! Right on!

Excellent post @5:48!

Word games are an art form in which many liberals excel. Too bad (for them) it has little affect on people capable of thinking for themselves.

JRC2024 07/30/13 - 09:26 am
Specta and teacup, If I hire

Specta and teacup, If I hire someone to work on your home and they steal some of your belongings while working there are you going to look to me for replacement or if they molest your young child are you going to try and sue my company? I think the law says you can. What about it myfather.

Teacup5560 07/30/13 - 10:19 am
myfather15 working extra

myfather15 working extra hard, trying to prove yourself, realizing that you made a mistake for whatever reason won't help cause the bottom line is you will never get the opportunity and that's the problem with not hiring anyone with a record. On the outside looking in, look like they are saying you only get one chance at employment. But on the other hand the CEO, that is taking millions and everybody knows it, deserves a bonus for all the money that his company lost year. Wall Street prime example they are all still there and we all know that they committed a crime just didn't go to prison. What would you rather have a person that admits to a mistake and want to do better or a person that say "I didn't do anything wrong like Wall Street". Just because you lost your retirement and I made millions.

AugieTroy 07/30/13 - 10:30 am
Curing Stupidity Is Issue Number One!

Unfortunately, employers in the United States and the Attorney Generals that support discrimination against Blacks and Hispanics are not familiar with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In the normal course of litigation, if an Attorney General seriously supports a position in a legal case they file an amicus curiae brief with the court, not a letter to the administrator. Unfortunately, civics courses aren't taught in high school or on Fox 5, so it's not your fault that many of you don't know how our government works. In fact, many of you are under the false assumption that a felony conviction is a lifetime prohibition.

Illiteracy is the main reason our economy has taken a dive in the financial market. Get an understanding of the topic before posting these insane comments. If this discrimination lawsuit against two separate employers had no validity, why are two courts in two separate jurisdictions entertaining it? The law prohibits disparate impact discrimination and disparate treatment discrimination; therefore, the EEOC is simply being true to its objective which would make several States either repeal or amend their policies on hiring felons. Stupidity is killing the economy, not the powerless felon!

Statistics clearly show that more Blacks and Hispanics are denied a fair shot at being employed than any other race. Fortunately, there are intelligent people who seem to understand that discrimination is the cause of this disparity. As an American, I will forever be true to the Constitution and the darkened ideas of mankind will be considered accordingly. Have a nice life!

Teacup5560 07/30/13 - 12:11 pm
A Education Moment

AugieTroy I can't say Thank You enough for your post. Thank you for your stats. You are right Stupidity just keep on raising his ugly head.

Old School Values
Old School Values 07/30/13 - 02:32 pm
If a person commits a Felony,

If a person commits a Felony, Lives up to the Rules provided by the Court and doesn't commit another crime, Does that mean Society should turn their back on them? How will they support themselves, or their Children? It should be up to how they present themselves if they get hired or not. The Government does need to keep its nose out of decisions best made by a interviewer though. I just don't believe anybody should be held accountable for something they did 20 years in the past. People change..

AugieTroy 07/30/13 - 08:50 pm
In New York, Pepsico had

In New York, Pepsico had settled with the EEOC for discriminating against felons in the hiring process. In fact, Pepsico settled for $3.13 million dollars for discriminating against 300 African-American applicants. Here's a link to the EEOC's website summarizing the matter.

At the end of the day, BMW and Dollar General will either settle or pay dearly after trial. The EEOC has set out a comprehensive set of guidelines and provided them to employers to conform their policies. If you haven't read the EEOC Enforcement Guidance, click on the following link. (statistics incorporated within)

All this kibitzing about making "mistakes" and the ever present "what if" hypothesis is nonsense. A God fearing person hasn't experienced their true godliness until they've felt the power in forgiving someone. The 11th Commandment was stated as follows: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another." John 13:34. In addition, the Bible says, "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Colossians 3:13. A blanket policy that discriminates against African-Americans or Hispanics based on a felony conviction is neither "love" nor "forgiveness" and it's definitely not the Christian way! InChristLove, comparing your comments to your login name exposes you as being a wolf in sheeps clothing. When did you find yourself so far from Christ? Many have posted that they fear "liability" when it's the fear of God that should be motivating you to do the right thing.

The new illiterates are not those who cannot read or write; it's those who cannot unlearn divisive social discrimination to relearn social equality. If the EEOC has to teach this valuable lesson to employers, then they should be compensated handsomely. It's more rewarding to teach someone who is mentally challenged who finally understands the lesson, than teaching someone who should understand the lesson but is deliberately being obtuse. For this, there should be millions of dollars in punitive damages for being so stupid!

Teacup5560, thank you so much commenting on my previous post. It's right minded people like yourself who will see the Lord's face!

Teacup5560 07/31/13 - 10:16 am
AugieTroy, it is good to know

AugieTroy, it is good to know that somebody is willing to stand for what's right. This should be the last post, you said it all the conversation over. Maybe some people will have second thoughts about posts that they put up. Shame, Shame.

Again, thanks

daphne3520 07/31/13 - 11:17 am

It's advice, NOT "advise!"

Back to Top
Search Augusta jobs