$6M Settlement Reached Between Dollar General, The EEOC in Criminal Background Check Lawsuit

It’s a new day at Dollar General for job applicants who have criminal records. The company made up for past wrongs and committed to a new procedure in a settlement with the federal government.

Major retail chain Dollar General will pay $6  million and furnish other relief to settle a class race discrimination lawsuit  brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal  agency announced on Monday.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Dollar General, the largest  small-box discount retailer in the United States, violated federal law by  denying employment to African Americans at a significantly higher rate than  white applicants for failing the company’s broad criminal background check.

Employment screens that have a disparate impact on the basis  of race violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, unless an employer  can show the screen is job-related and is a business necessity. The EEOC filed  suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago  (EEOC v. Dolgencorp LLC d/b/a Dollar General,  Civil Action No. 13 C 4307), after first attempting to reach a voluntary  settlement through its conciliation process.

The three-year consent decree settling the suit, signed by  U.S. District Court Judge Andrea Wood, requires that Dollar General pay $6  million into a settlement fund which will be distributed through a claims  process at the direction of the EEOC to African Americans who lost their chance  at employment at the company between 2004 and 2019. If Dollar General chooses  to use a criminal background check during the term of the decree, the retailer must  hire a criminology consultant to develop a new criminal background check based  on several factors including the time since conviction, the number of offenses,  the nature and gravity of the offense(s), and the risk of recidivism. Once the consultant  provides a recommendation, the decree enjoins Dollar General from using any other  criminal background check for its hiring process.

Dollar General is also enjoined from discouraging people  with criminal backgrounds from applying, from engaging in retaliation, and from  otherwise discriminating on the basis of race in implementing a criminal  history check. In addition, the decree requires the company to update its  reconsideration process – which operates when a rejected applicant asks the  company to reconsider its decision despite the applicant’s criminal convictions.  The new reconsideration process must include clear communications to failed  applicants that they may provide information to Dollar General to support reconsideration  of their exclusion. Finally, the retailer must also provide reports to the EEOC  about the implementation of any new criminal history checks and reconsideration  processes.

“This case is important because Dollar General is not just providing  relief for a past practice but for the future as well,” said Gregory Gochanour,  regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District. “If the company plans to use  criminal history, it must retain a criminologist to develop a fair process. Unlike  other background checks based on unproven myths and biases about people with criminal  backgrounds, Dollar General’s new approach will be informed by experts with  knowledge of actual risk.”

EEOC Chicago District Director Julianne Bowman added, “Because  of the racial disparities in the American criminal justice system, use of  criminal background checks often has a disparate impact on African Americans. This  consent decree reminds employers that criminal background checks must have some  demon­strable business necessity and connection to the job at issue.”

This case was litigated by EEOC Trial Attorneys Jeanne  Szromba, Richard Mrizek, and Ethan Cohen and Supervisory Trial Attorney Diane  Smason.

The  EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of  discrimination, admin­istrative enforcement and the conduct of agency  litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota,  with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

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