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Federal district court certifies three classes in case over D.C. metro’s screening policy

A U.S. district judge in Washington, D.C. recently approved class status in a hot-button case claiming that WMATA’s – D.C.’s primary public transit agency – background screening policy had a disparate impact on African-Americans.

In 2011, WMATA adopted a policy that governs whether felony or misdemeanor convictions for particular offenses would permanently disqualify applicants from consideration for employment.

The plaintiffs in the case argued that the employer’s criminal background check policy is facially neutral but has a disparate impact on African-Americans, and thus violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and D.C.’s Human Rights Act (DCHRA), among other laws.  Specifically, plaintiffs allege that the screening criteria in the policy is "overly broad, unjustifiably rigid and unduly harsh,” and disqualifies many job applicants and employees based on criminal history that is not related to the job at issue or occurred so long ago—in some cases, 20 or 30 years in the past—that it is irrelevant to any fair determination of employee honesty, reliability, or safety.

The plaintiffs recently moved for class certification and a judge granted their motion in part and certified three classes. The judge stated that the plaintiffs had satisfied Rule 23’s requirements with respect to liability and the availability of injunctive or other declaratory relief.

The case is Little v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, case number 1:14-cv-01289, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The case is an important one for all employers to be aware of as it expected that many future cases will refer to this ruling when attempting to demonstrate that a company’s criminal background check policies may have a disparate impact on some applicants. Therefore, employers should continue to review their background check policies to ensure that they are neutrally applied.

Source: Seyfarth Shaw, 4/19/2017

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