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Running background checks? Use conviction, not arrest, to exclude applicant

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in Employment Background Check,Human Resources

The Illinois Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of a previous arrest record or criminal history that has been expunged, sealed or impounded. However, employers can decide not to hire an applicant who has been convicted of a crime. If such a conviction reflects on the qualifications or character of an applicant, it can be used to bar employment.

Recent case: When a black male applied for a position as director of community development for the city of Country Club Hills, the job offer was contingent on background checks, including a criminal-record check.

The background check revealed disturbing informa-tion: Not only did the applicant have extensive arrest and conviction records, but he had eight aliases and seven reported birth dates. The convictions were for theft, resisting arrest and battery.

Not surprisingly, the city revoked its job offer. But the applicant sued, alleging the city had illegally considered his arrest record.

Not so, concluded the court. The city showed it considered just two factors—four convictions and the alias use—to conclude the applicant didn’t have the good character it was looking for in a community-development director. Because it used convictions—not arrests—as the basis, its actions were legal. (In the Matter of C.R.M. v. Illinois Department of Human Rights, et al., No. 1-06-2447, Appellate Court of Illinois, Second Division, 2007)


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