Nearly fifty years ago to the day a landmark piece of civil rights legislation outlawing discrimination became law, the Community Service Society and legal advocacy groups across the country are applauding another significant legal decision.
In 2010 CSS and a select cadre of legal organizations filed a federal suit charging the U.S. Census Bureau with creating unfair and in many cases insurmountable burdens for job applicants who – at any time in their lives – may have had contact with the criminal justice system. This criminal records screen adversely affected people of color due to the serious, well-documented racial disparities in terms of arrest and conviction statistics across the U.S. Simply put, people of color are much, much more likely to be arrested for and convicted of crimes. The result of Census’s hiring process was, therefore, that hundreds of thousands of African Americans and Latinos were screened out of the running for temporary 2010 Census jobs before they had a chance to demonstrate their merits. The hiring process – which had come under criticism by the EEOC even before it was implemented – had a disparate impact on applicants of color in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the suit alleges.
On July 1, the court ruled that the federal suit can go forward as a class action on behalf of African American applicants who were denied Census jobs through Census’s criminal background screening mechanism – a significant victory for plaintiffs. While ruling that the class action will not at this time include Latino members, the court will allow the plaintiffs to seek to add Latino class members.
As this case goes forward, lawyers from CSS, the law firm Outten and Golden and the other legal advocacy groups who comprise class counsel will work hard to ensure that this litigation results in changed hiring practices free of discriminatory taint and redress for those who were harmed by the 2010 system.