Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Attorneys General Defend Screening; Advocacy Groups Say Ex-Cons Deserve Second Chance as They Search for Employment

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Attorneys General Defend Screening; Advocacy Groups Say Ex-Cons Deserve Second Chance as They Search for Employment

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter C. Jones

When the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission started suing businesses for denying jobs to former convicts, the attorneys general of Georgia, South Carolina Kansas and six other states began fighting back.

They sent a letter to the agency saying they were defending all U.S. businesses' access to criminal screening as well as upholding some of their state laws that prohibit hiring former criminals in certain positions like day-care workers. But the EEOC argues refusal to hire people who have criminal records results is illegal - if unintentional - racial discrimination because more blacks than whites are behind bars.

The issue sets up a complex tug-of-war between competing policy interests.

On one hand is the desire to reduce burdens on businesses to begin hiring the types of workers they have confidence in. On the other is the goal of getting those who have paid their debt to society into productive employment so they'll pay taxes, support their families and won't be tempted to commit new crimes.

In April, 2012, the agency issued a "guidance," which doesn't have the force of a law but is meant to inform employers about the leanings of the administration. It said employers shouldn't automatically reject applicants with a conviction but rather look at the individual circumstances of the crime, how long ago it happened and whether it applies to the job in question.

Several attorneys general raised objections.

Then last month, EEOC attorneys filed federal lawsuits against BMW Manufacturing in Spartanburg, S.C., and Dollar General stores in Chicago. BMW changed subcontractors in its parts warehouse, and before the workers could move from the old subcontractor to the new one, BMW insisted on terminating any with a past conviction. Of the 88 workers fired, 80 percent were black, according to the suit, including some who had worked in the warehouse for a dozen years.

Dollar General has a long-standing rule not to hire former convicts in its stores. …

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