Excerpted from The Philadelphia Inquirer story by Lizzy McLellan Ravitch

Sheetz, a Pennsylvania-founded convenience store chain, has been charged by the federal government of using a racially discriminatory hiring practice.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit on April 17, alleging that Sheetz, through its criminal background screening process, denied employment to certain job applicants because of their race. The chain has been doing so since at least 2015, the complaint said.

Nick Ruffner, a spokesperson for Sheetz, said the company has been working with the EEOC for nearly eight years “to find common ground and resolve this dispute.” Ruffner said the company is taking the allegations seriously.

According to the lawsuit, Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, and multiracial job candidates were disproportionately denied jobs at Sheetz because of their criminal justice history.

Specifically, the EEOC found, while white job applicants were denied jobs because of their history in about 8% of cases, that rate of denial was 14.5% for Black applicants, 13% for American Indian/Alaska Native applicants and 13.5% for multiracial applicants.

Guidelines from the EEOC say even a “neutral” policy, such as excluding any applicant with a criminal conviction, could violate the law if the exclusion is not job-related and based on a business need.

“Federal law mandates that employment practices causing a disparate impact because of race or other protected classifications must be shown by the employer to be necessary to ensure the safe and efficient performance of the particular jobs at issue,” EEOC regional attorney Debra M. Lawrence said. “Even when such necessity is proven, the practice remains unlawful if there is an alternative practice available that is comparably effective in achieving the employer’s goals but causes less discriminatory effect.”

While the case was filed in federal court in Baltimore, the lawsuit noted that Sheetz has more than 20,000 employees across at least 700 stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina.

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