Do criminal background checks lead to bias? The EEOC will have to weigh that question when it investigates discrimination charges filed against Madison Square Garden by Charlene Clarke.
Clarke, a black woman from the Bronx, accepted a food worker position at The Garden in September 2007. One month later, the arena withdrew its offer after Clarke’s revealed a misdemeanor assault charge five years ago.
Employers have a right to use criminal background checks to screen applicants, as long as the charges relate directly to the job in question. But Clarke’s complaint asserts that the arena’s withdrawal of her employment offer violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Her complaint alleges “a pattern and practice of discrimination against African-American applicants for jobs at MSG.”
This case could grow significantly larger if it becomes a class action. According to Clarke’s attorneys, the charge is “intended to place MSG on notice of class-wide allegations of race discrimination.”
Attorney Justin Swartz said, “The fact is, about one in five U.S. adults has a criminal record, and a disproportionate number of them are African-Americans and Hispanics. Millions of people like Ms. Clarke are motivated to return to the workforce after they pay their debt to society only to be turned away by employers with unfair hiring policies.”
A spokesperson for Madison Square Garden responded that the arena conducts criminal background checks “to ensure the safety of our fans and employees.”
Note: If The Garden hired Clarke despite her record and she assaulted a fan, it would have a hard time defending against a negligent-hiring charge. If Clarke’s case becomes a class action and she prevails, the decision could put employers in the difficult position of balancing bias-free hiring requirements with the need to keep customers safe.
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