With the several years downturn in the economy, finding a job has become a daunting task for many Americans.
And with the applicant pool so saturated, many prospective employers are taking unprecedented steps to whittle down the applications. Increasingly, employers are conducting criminal background checks on job seekers. And though a person may have a clean conviction record, arrest can and do show up on many background checks, even if the arrest did not result in a conviction or even being charged with a crime. And while Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from using methods that disproportionately affect a protected class, such as African Americans, these criminal background checks can do just that. Ashley Oliver a law student at the University of St. Thomas said African Americans in Minneapolis are 15 times more likely to be arrested or cited than their white counterparts.
“For far too long we’ve acquiesced to the problem of African Americans being placed early on into the criminal justice system,” said Oliver who, along with Roger Maldonado and Leah Yamada hosted a symposium on criminal records and the collateral consequences they have on the African American community. “No longer can we accept and acquiesce.”
While the unemployment rate in the Twin Cities is 6.6 percent for whites, Oliver says that rate is 20.4 percent for African Americans in the metro.
Oliver pointed to a recent $3.3 million-dollar payout by the Pepsi Beverage Co. as evidence that employers are using arrest records to discriminate against African Americans. Though Pepsi denied any discrimination, it agreed to pay approximately 300 African American applicants who were denied employment based upon prior arrest; even if there was no conviction. Pepsi also agreed to offer the once-denied applicants employment.
Many of the background checks are provided by online data miners and have little or no accountability or regulation according to the trio.
“In Minneapolis, African American youths are five times more likely to be arrested than whites yet white youths are 60 percent more likely to be arrested for series offences such as assault, rape, robbery and murder,” said Yamada “Most of the African American youth arrests were for smaller violations such as curfew violations, loitering, etc.”
And while it is assumed that juvenile records have no impact on people as adults, the records can stay with a person until 28-years of age according to Yamada.
A person with an arrest can appeal for an expungement, a legal process that removes a conviction from public records, but that process is limited, sometimes costly and time consuming. Those wishing to file for expungement must file in the county (or state) where charged. However, Oliver said individuals still on probation or parole, with pending cases, or who owe fines or restitution are unlikely to be granted an expungement. Expungements are also limited in scope due to the severity of the crime for which a person has been convicted.
The presenters of the forum called for an end to aggressive policing against people of color to combat the criminal records disparity. They also suggested for people who have been arrested to run their own background checks to see what may be out there and verify that the information is accurate.
“Even if your record has been expunged, these internet data sites still may have a negative arrest record on you. They’re not always 100-percent accurate,” said Oliver.