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Target Settles Lawsuit Over Racial Disparity in Background Checks

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

No one says you need to perform background checks on your potential employees, and there's a movement to "ban the box," or refrain from asking questions about an applicant's criminal history. In fact, Target pulled criminal history questions from its applications in 2013, although it still gathered criminal background information later in the hiring process.

What Target didn't do, according to a lawsuit, was apply these criminal background checks to all prospective employees equally. And the company has agreed to pay $3.74 million to settle allegations that black and Hispanic applicants were disproportionately denied jobs based on their criminal histories.

Illegal Criminal History Decisions

"Criminal background information can be a legitimate tool for screening job applicants, but only when appropriately linked to relevant questions such as how long ago the offense occurred and whether it was a nonviolent or misdemeanor offense," said president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Sherrilyn Ifill. "Target's background check policy was out of step with best practices and harmful to many qualified applicants who deserved a fair shot at a good job.

The lawsuit claimed Target rejected applicants for broad categories of misdemeanors and felonies within seven years of applying. Additionally, Target's human resources division allegedly used its discretion to make a final determination, "rather than apply any objective or validated measures." Therefore, the company imported "the racial and ethnic disparities that exist in the criminal justice system into the employment process, thereby multiplying the negative impact on African-American and Latino job applicants." Target is also accused of disqualifying applicants for convictions unrelated to the positions they sought.

Background Checks Going Forward

Target denied any wrongdoing, and spokesperson Jenna Reck reasserted the company doesn't ask for criminal histories in job applications. "We have a number of measures in place to ensure we're fair and equitable in our hiring," Reck said, "maintaining a safe and secure working and shopping environment for team members and guests."

If you have questions about your company's approach to criminal background checks, contact an experienced employment attorney today.

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