WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new federal lawsuit alleges Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) willfully violates federal and state laws when conducting criminal background checks of prospective employees.
Filed in federal court in Philadelphia, the class action accuses SEPTA, the nation’s sixth-largest public transportation system, of routinely rejecting job applicants based on information contained in reports obtained from background check companies.
The lawsuit alleges SEPTA fails to comply with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in its procurement of consumer reports for employment purposes. According to the complaint, SEPTA fails to provide job applicants with a required “clear and conspicuous” written disclosure that it may obtain a consumer report for employment purposes. The “clear and conspicuous,” also known as “stand alone” disclosure is important to ensuring accuracy and preventing employers from distracting job applicants with unrelated information and requests.
SEPTA also is accused of routinely violating Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA) through its policy and practice of disqualifying job applicants with unrelated felony convictions from employment in positions involving the operation of SEPTA vehicles.
“When employers conduct background checks on job applicants, they must comply with the law and ensure that the rights of job applicants are protected,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Today’s litigation is part of our comprehensive efforts to ensure that employers do not abuse background screening reports when screening job applicants.”
The named plaintiff is Frank Long, a 56-year-old resident of Philadelphia and a commercially licensed bus driver whose October 2014 job offer for a position as a SEPTA bus operator was rescinded after he was subjected to SEPTA’s criminal background check process.
“I’ve lived in Philadelphia practically all my life and have experience doing exactly the kind of work SEPTA was hiring for,” said Mr. Long. “I care about my community and am not a threat to anyone. This job would make a real difference in my life.” Mr. Long was convicted of a drug related felony over 20 years ago but has stayed on the right side of the law ever since.”
The legal team for the putative class includes Adam T. Klein, Ossai Miazad, Lewis M. Steel, Christopher M. McNerney, and Cheryl-Lyn Bentley, of Outten & Golden LLP’s New York office; Michael Lee and Michael Hardiman of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, of Philadelphia; Jon Greenbaum and Mateya Kelley of Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, of Washington, D.C.; Benjamin D. Geffen of Public Interest Law Center, of Philadelphia; and Ryan Allen Hancock and Danielle Newsome of Willig, Williams & Davidson, of Philadelphia.
“This case is about the systematic violation of laws that are intended to ensure accuracy, confidentiality, and fairness in hiring. By failing to provide proper disclosures, SEPTA hinders job applicants, like Mr. Long, in their abilities to preserve their privacy and to correct errors or other problems with the reports,” said Ossai Miazad, partner at Outten & Golden LLP and one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs. “In Mr. Long’s case, there’s no question he is a good citizen with a solid work history despite his earlier life experiences. Even SEPTA recognized this when its recruiter offered him a job.”
“Hiring practices barring individuals with conviction history from jobs unrelated to their previous convictions cripple job applicants who have paid their debt to society and seek to move forward with their lives as responsible citizens,” said Benjamin Geffen, attorney from the Public Interest Law Center in Philadelphia. “Ryan Allen Hancock, of counsel at Willig, Williams & Davidson and former assistant chief counsel of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, added, “For this precise reason, the U.S. Department of Justice has designated this week as National Reentry Week calling on employers such as SEPTA to adopt fair and reasonable hiring practices.”
Mr. Long and the legal team seek injunctive and declaratory relief; statutory damages; exemplary and punitive damages; pre-judgment and post-judgment interest; and reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses associated with this action.
More information about the lawsuit is available at www.SEPTAconvictiondiscrimination.com.
The case is “Frank Long, v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority,” No. 2:16-cv-01991-PBT, in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania.