Excerpted from a Phelps Dunbar LLP Blog by Michael E. Turner

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) recent lawsuit against a convenience store operator over its policy against hiring job applicants with a criminal background is a reminder to all employers to focus on this initial hiring issue.

According to the EEOC, it is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) for an employer to screen out a Title VII-protected group of applicants for employment based on criminal history, even if the policy is facially neutral, without showing the policy is job-related for the position in question and consistent with business needs. The EEOC’s stance is that such a policy violates Title VII if it has a disproportionate impact upon a class of minority applicants.

Recently, the EEOC showed its commitment to that stance by filing a lawsuit in federal court in Maryland against Sheetz, Inc., Sheetz Distribution Services, LLC, and CLI Transport, LP. Sheetz has 23,000 employees and operates 600 convenience store locations across six states.

In its complaint, the EEOC alleged that since 2015, Sheetz has enforced a practice requiring all job applicants, regardless of the job, to pass a review of information about their criminal justice history, including, but not limited to, convictions that Sheetz obtains through questions on its job application and a background check conducted by a third-party vendor.

The EEOC alleged Sheetz then decided whether job applicants were deemed to have passed or failed the review — and those who failed were refused employment for all jobs. The EEOC further alleged the Sheetz employees who made these decisions did not need to contact job applicants to notify them of the decision or to request more information or an explanation, and these decisions were not reviewed by any management official.

The EEOC has asserted that Sheetz’s policy violated Title VII not because Sheetz was intentionally discriminating, but because the policy had a disparate impact upon Black, American Indians/Alaskan native, and multi-racial job applicants.

Key takeaways for employers:

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