BMW, Dollar General Sued Over Criminal Background Checks

Dollar General Corp., the discount retailer, and BMW Manufacturing Co, a unit of the German automaker, were sued by the U.S. government over the allegedly discriminatory use of criminal background checks in hiring.

The companies used those checks in a manner that was biased against black workers and job applicants, according to complaints filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission today in Chicago and in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

BMW Manufacturing, a unit of Munich-based Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, used the checks to deny re-employment to as many as 69 blacks working for a logistical services company that helped staff its Spartanburg facility when they tried to transfer to another logistics firm in 2008, according to the EEOC’s complaint.

“Claimants were denied access to BMW’s facility without any individualized assessment of the nature and gravity of their criminal offenses, the ages of the convictions or the nature of their respective positions,” the commission alleged.

The EEOC last year issued an Enforcement Guidance bulletin advising employers that use of a criminal history check to make employment decisions may violate the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Sky Foster, a spokeswoman for Spartanburg-based BMW Manufacturing, didn’t immediately reply to a voice-mail message seeking comment on the agency’s allegations.

Background Checks

Eighty percent of the employees who were denied plant access after the background checks were black, according to the EEOC. The regulator said it seeks a court order barring BMW from continuing to use the same practice or any policy that has a disparate impact on blacks without examining each worker’s individual circumstances, plus money damages.

In the case against Dollar General, the commission said black job seekers suffered disproportionately when criminal background check results were used to rescind conditional employment offers.

“People who have been convicted of crimes and have paid their ‘debt to society,’ eventually ought to have a fair shot in the job market -- especially if the conviction was years earlier and had nothing to do with the job they seek,” John Rowe, director of the EEOC’s Chicago-area office, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

The check is conducted after an applicant is given a job offer, with the pass/fail result being relayed to the store manager by e-mail, according to the EEOC’s complaint.

Dan MacDonald, a spokesman for the Goodlettsville, Tennessee-based company, said by phone that he couldn’t immediately comment on the commission’s allegations.

Criminal History

Working with an outside company, Dollar General allegedly developed criteria for determining when an applicant’s criminal history warrants rejection, taking into account the nature of the crime and date of the conviction.

From January 2004 to April 2007, Dollar General made about 344,300 conditional job offers, 75 percent of which were conveyed to non-blacks, the EEOC alleged, citing data it says it received from the retailer.

About 7 percent of the conditional offers made to non-blacks were rescinded for failing background checks, while about 10 percent of the offers made to blacks were withdrawn.

“The gross disparity in the rates at which black and non-black conditional employees were discharged on account of defendant’s criminal background check policy is statistically significant,” according to the EEOC complaint.

The commission seeks a court order barring the practice and requiring the company to provide equal employment opportunities to black job seekers. The EEOC also asked for a monetary judgment to compensate rejected applicants.

Dollar General rose 2.6 percent to close $51.67 at in New York Stock Exchange trading.

The Dollar General case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Dolgencorp LLC, 13-cv-04307, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago). The BMW case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. BMW Manufacturing Co., 13-cv-01583, U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina (Spartanburg).

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