LatinoJustice urges EEOC to investigate discriminatory background checks


CONTACT: Madeline Friedman, Coordinator for Media Relations, 212-739-7581

LatinoJustice PRLDEF President and General Counsel Juan Cartagena testified at a hearing of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington this morning, urging EEOC members to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the commercial criminal background check industry.

The problems that the commercial criminal background check industry generates through faulty or incomplete reporting have a particularly adverse effect on Latino applicants and employees, Cartagena told members of the Commission.


“Latinos are disproportionately found within the ranks of persons with previous criminal records,” Cartagena said in his statement. “Given their distribution among occupations that are subject to background checks at present, a significant portion of Latino workers are subject to the inaccuracies, incompleteness and vagaries that that industry has,” Cartagena told members of the Commission.

In his testimony, Cartagena highlighted many of the flaws of these commercial criminal background checks, including:

  • Commercially-prepared background checks are consistently inaccurate, with multiple reports of the same incidents and uncorrected identity theft problems as well.
  • Name-based searches often produce erroneous reports by listing false positives (incorrectly tying a person’s name to a criminal record) and false negatives (missing a criminal record because of a false or inaccurate name). The error rate in these systems can translate into significant numbers of individuals who may be denied employment opportunities.
  • One report extrapolated the findings in Florida of a task force consisting of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the FBI to estimate that if Florida’s false positive rates were to apply to the nation-wide fingerprint-based checks that the FBI conducted in 1997, 346,000 false positives would have resulted.

Cartagena also reminded members of the Commission that criminal record checks and the use of arrest and/or conviction bars in employment, like felon disfranchisement laws, places inordinate faith in the United States’ criminal justice system, a system whose policies have placed a disproportionate number of minorities in jail.

“Without new EEOC guidelines that address the proliferation of mass incarceration and the concomitant proliferation of criminal record databases, the use of the pretext of a criminal history may shut out a sizeable part of Black and Latino employees – and all without a clear balancing of the rights of employers to have a safe environment and right of employees and applicants to be judged on the merits,” he said.

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