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Monday, March 28, 2011
Blacks need not apply: Report shows rise in job discrimination
Job seeker Shirley Smith fills out paperwork at a job fair in Southgate, Mich., Wednesday, March 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Today, it is estimated that 65 million U.S. adults have a criminal record and continue to face barriers to employment as a result. According to a new report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the overuseof imposing criminal background checks and blanket bans against hiring people who have been charged with even a misdemeanor offense is a practice that has been adopted by at least 10 leading national employers, including Bank of America, Aramark, Lowe's, Domino's Pizza and Radio Shack, among others.
In 1987, the EEOC issued policy guidelines that determined barring people from employed based solely on a criminal conviction history disproportionately excluded African-Americans and Latinos from the labor market because they are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Just as it is illegal to overtly discriminate by race, ethnicity or skin color, it is also a violation of civil rights law for an employer to use non-job related selection criteria that disproportionately disadvantages people of color in hiring decisions.
Still, the violations are numerous and bold. NELP's four-month scan of Craigslist, which operates in more than 400 geographic areas of the U.S., documented more than 300 ads precluding the consideration of individuals with criminal conviction histories:
"No Exceptions!...No Misdemeanors and/or Felonies of any type ever in background."
"Do not apply with any misdemeanors/felonies."
"You must not have any felony or misdemeanor convictions on your record. Period."
Though each of these statements violate the EEOC prohibition against blanket bans, employers and their recruitment agencies continue to artificially and illegally limit the pool of qualified candidates for available jobs. The effects take not only a toll on resources in our institutions, as violations are now leading to considerable legal and community advocacy; they also take a human toll as well.
Darrell Langdon, from Chicago, struggled with addiction in his youth. Despite this setback, he has persevered through the years, working as a boiler room fireman in the Chicago Public Schools and then as a mortgage broker. Though sober for more than 20 years, his 25-year-old felony conviction for possession of cocaine remains on record. In 2008, Mr. Langdon applied to be a boiler room engineer in the schools. Despite the fact that he'd been clean for more than two decades and that he had prior experience in the schools, he was initially rejected for the job because of his conviction. It was only after Mr. Langdon's case benefited from substantial publicity, that the school system reversed its decision and hired him for the position in 2010.
"When they denied me for the job, I couldn't believe it, especially since it was because of something that happened way back then," said Mr. Langdon. "I just felt that there was no way they could deny me this job, so I went through the motions to contest it. I'm at work right now, and I feel great about it!"
Though research has confirmed that employment helps to thwart recidivism, and many of our public leaders, including U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis acknowledge employment as a pathway to help keep former incarcerated people "out of the legal system," our public policies and private employment practices often fail to consider long-term impact on our communities when people are illegally prevented from reclaiming their lives.
For example, Calvin Moore, who is 59 years old, grew up in a tough neighborhood in Washington, DC. He was convicted and served a 10-year sentence: 3 ½ years in prison, and the remaining 6 ½ years on parole. Mr. Moore tried to start over and took college courses, but in the late 1980s, he again found himself face-to-face with the criminal system, after being unable to find a job. He was finally able to find various jobs that did not pay well, were hazardous to his health, and ultimately did not provide any benefits.
Over the years, Mr. Moore started developing some serious health problems from these poor jobs, and was forced to go on SSDI. Since August 2008, Mr. Moore has been out of work. He has been diligently looking for a job and since that time, has applied for over 42 jobs. Unfortunately, he's been turned down by all of them due to his criminal record.
In 2009, Mr. Moore went to the D.C. Employment Justice Center about the possibility of sealing his criminal record under the District's 2006 Expungement and Sealing law, but he was unable to seal any part of his record because the law in DC is so narrowly drafted.
"Things are beginning to happen. I'm trying to obtain my certification as a drug addiction counselor, but I have to be employed before I can continue my education," said Mr. Moore, who is optimistic and still interviewing for jobs. "Within the next couple of months, I hope something concrete settles, part-time, full-time...It doesn't matter at this point."
The report offers several recommendations for combating employer abuses of background checks. In addition to calling for the aggressive enforcement of civil rights and consumer protections that apply to criminal background checks by both the private and public sector, NELP also recommends that employers take a more active role in raising the profile of this issue and promoting best practices with respect to fair employment, beginning with an accurate and appropriate use of criminal background checks.
"We want the employer to do the right thing in the first place. I'd love to see the employer community step up in this area. Our employer best practices guide is a good resource for that," said Michelle Natividad Rodriguez, NELP staff attorney and lead author of the new report.
"In the Bay Area, we have a hotline, and in some cases, we try to represent people who have been affected by this type of discrimination. But if an individual feels they've been affected by an automatic ban, they should reach out to their local EEOC office directly, or to a local nonprofit that can help him or her file a charge with the EEOC, try to have a conversation with the potential employer, or look at the consumer protection laws."
In the end, fair and transparent processes -- in both the public and private sector -- are what lead to the best pool of candidates for our nation's jobs. Unnecessarily excluding qualified candidates from work violates these individual's civil and human rights, and limits the capacity of our inclusive nation. We cannot thrive as a democracy or viable economy when so many -- now 65 million people -- "need not apply."