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EEOC Files Lawsuit Against Employer Over Criminal Background Checks

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On April 18, 2024, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit1 against Sheetz, a convenience store chain, alleging the employer violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits disparate impact discrimination.

More specifically, the EEOC “charges that Sheetz’s hiring practices disproportionately screened out Black, Native American/Alaska Native and multiracial applicants” via their “longstanding practice of screening all job applicants for records of criminal conviction and then denying them employment based on those records.”

The EEOC’s complaint includes several allegations:

  • Employer decides if applicants “have passed or failed” based on the criminal background check conducted post offer;
  • Prior to making the “fail” decision, the employer does not contact applicants to request additional information;
  • Employer does not require further internal review from a manager or other company official beyond the initial person assigned to conduct the screening;
  • Employer does not identify the specific conviction or other information that is the basis for the decision; and
  • Employer does not maintain a procedure for job applicants to appeal or otherwise seek reconsideration of their employment denial. 

It's important to note that the EEOC did not claim the employer took race into account. Instead, the EEOC’s complaint cited to statistics from the employer’s hiring practices that showed statistically that Black, American Indian/Alaska Native and multiracial job applicants were routinely rejected at higher rates than White applicants.

Several of the EEOC’s allegations should be concerning for employers. For example, there is no federal legal requirement to identify the specific conviction or information that forms the basis for the decision. Several city and states have passed fair chance laws that require such steps – but that may not be a practice employers have adopted outside of those specific jurisdictions. The same can be said for the alleged lack of a procedure to allow for reconsideration requests or appeals.

The EEOC’s past guidance on the use of criminal and arrest records in employment decisions has emphasized the recommendation for employers to conduct individualized assessments prior to making a final employment decision based on criminal history. While the guidance is not law, it is clear the EEOC has sought to enforce these standards by filing various Title VII discrimination claims against employers (see Dollar General’s $6 million settlement). 

Given the expansive nature of the EEOC’s complaint, employers are well advised to consult with qualified legal counsel to determine if any hiring practices should be reconsidered.

1 U.S. EEOC v. Sheetz, Inc., et al., Civil Action No. 1:24-cv-01123-JKB filed in the District of Maryland.

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