BMW to pay $1.6M to settle suit over use of criminal background checks

By Cate Chapman on September 9, 2015

A federal court has ordered BMW Manufacturing Co. to pay $1.6 million and provide job opportunities to alleged victims of race discrimination in connection with criminal background checks performed on them, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.

The consent decree entered Sept. 8 is part of the resolution of a lawsuit filed by the federal agency charged with enforcing anti-discrimination employment laws. The case is one of the first involving arrest and conviction records the EEOC has filed since it began to track complaints on their use last year and updated guidance on existing policy in 2012.

The suit alleged that the US manufacturing unit of the German automaker excluded African-American logistics workers from employment at a disproportionate rate when the company’s new logistics contractor applied BMW’s criminal conviction records guidelines to incumbent logistics employees.

“EEOC has been clear that while a company may choose to use criminal history as a screening device in employment, Title VII requires that when a criminal background screen results in the disproportionate exclusion of African-Americans from job opportunities, the employer must evaluate whether the policy is job related and consistent with a business necessity,” said P. David Lopez, EEOC’s General Counsel.

The complaint said that when BMW switched contractors handling the company’s logistics at its Spartanburg, S.C., facility in the summer of 2008, it required the new contractor to perform a criminal background screen on all existing logistics employees who re-applied to continue working in their positions at BMW.

At the time, BMW’s criminal conviction records guidelines excluded from employment all persons with convictions in certain categories of crime, regardless of how long ago the employee had been convicted or whether the conviction was for a misdemeanor or felony.

According to the complaint, after the criminal background checks were performed, BMW learned that approximately 100 incumbent logistics workers at the facility, including employees who had worked there for several years, did not pass the screen. EEOC alleged that 80 percent of the incumbent workers disqualified from employment as a result of applying BMW’s guidelines were black.

Following an investigation, EEOC filed suit alleging that blacks were disproportionately disqualified from employment as a result of the criminal conviction records guidelines. EEOC sought relief for 56 African-Americans who were discharged. BMW has since voluntarily changed its guidelines.

BMW will pay a total of $1.6 million to resolve the litigation and two pending charges related to the company’s previous criminal conviction records guidelines that had been filed with EEOC. The carmaker also will offer employment opportunities to the discharged workers in the suit and up to 90 African-American applicants whom the contractor refused to hire based on the previous conviction records guidelines.