NEW YORK — The Third Circuit ruled yesterday that job applicants have standing to sue under the Fair Credit Reporting Act in a criminal history lawsuit brought by plaintiffs against their prospective employer, SEPTA, says Outten & Golden LLP and a coalition of legal advocates.
Filed in federal court in Philadelphia in 2016, 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.
In finding that Plaintiffs have standing to sue, the Third Circuit explained that the FCRA requires that applicants be provided with an opportunity to review their background check reports before being denied employment. The Court stated that this provides applicants with an opportunity to “advocate for [the criminal history information] to be used fairly” by the employer, “such as by explaining why true but negative information is irrelevant to his fitness for the job.”
Ossai Miazad, partner at Outten & Golden LLP, and the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “this is a significant victory for our clients, who first challenged SEPTA’s unfair background check hiring policies and practices in 2016.” Ms. Miazad added that “this ruling is an important affirmation that a defendant like SEPTA cannot block access to the court and cannot avoid scrutiny of their actual employment practices that serve to unfairly deny employment to individuals like our clients who have paid their debt to society.”
“This important ruling by the Third Circuit sends a clear message to employers that artificial barriers that deny employment to people with criminal records will not be upheld. Access to equal employment opportunity benefits communities of color that have been disproportionately subjected to discriminatory policing practices and mass incarceration,” said Dariely Rodriguez, director of the Economic Justice Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“Federal law guarantees job applicants the right to review a criminal background report before an employer decides against making a job offer,” said Ben Geffen, an attorney at the Public Interest Law Center. “This allows jobseekers to respond to inaccurate or negative information in background reports before an employer makes a final hiring decision. We are glad that the court affirmed this important legal protection.”
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 Yorkoffice; Michael Hardiman of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity of Philadelphia; Jon Greenbaum and Dariely Rodriguez of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of Washington, D.C.; Benjamin D. Geffen of Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia; Ryan Allen Hancock and Danielle Newsome of Willig, Williams & Davidson of Philadelphia; and Deepak Gupta of Gupta Wessler PLLC.
Plaintiffs 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 https://www.septaconvictiondiscrimination.com/.
The case is Frank Long, v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, No. 16 Civ. 1991, in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania.