Today the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed lawsuits against two companies, BMW and Dollar General, for allegedly discriminating against workers and job applicants who’d had interactions with the criminal justice system. The EEOC lawsuits charge that both companies’ practices had a disparate impact on black workers. 

Dollar General, the nation’s largest small-box discount retailer, makes job offers contingent on applicants’ first clearing a criminal background check. One worker filed a complaint with the EEOC after she was fired because of a felony which showed up erroneously in a convictions report on her. Even when she cleared her name with the company they would not give her back her job, EEOC says.

And a BMW manufacturing facility in South Carolina kept an exclusionary policy which barred employees and employees of subcontractors from entering a facility if they had certain criminal convictions, EEOC says. They held onto the policy when it came time to transition workers from a phased-out contractor, even though those workers had already cleared the contractor’s background checks. Workers, even longtime employees, who didn’t clear the new checks lost their jobs and could not get them back, according to the EEOC.

EEOC charges that BMW and Dollar General’s employment practices violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Because background checks have a disparate impact on workers of color, the law requires employers’ job screening processes to be “job related” and actually necessary for business. Especially in a tough economy, criminal background checks have a disproportionate impact on black and Latino workers that can amount to a life sentence.

The Obama administration has doggedly fought workplace discrimination. In 2006 the EEOC was conducting 60 active investigations, but by 2011 the agency stepped it up to almost 600, the AP reported last year. 

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