U.S. Census Settles Lawsuit Over Barring Ex-Offenders from Employment

by: Deion Broxton Special to the AFRO
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A landmark settlement against the U.S. Census Bureau involving discriminatory employment barriers may “send a strong message to other employers,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law.Article31 census

On April 20, lawyers and a named plaintiff in Anthony Gonzalez, et al., v. Penny Pritzker, Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce held a conference call to discuss a landmark class action settlement secured against the U.S. Census Bureau involving minority job applicants with criminal backgrounds.

African American and Latino plaintiffs’ applications for more than a million temporary jobs to assist the 2010 census were rejected by the Census Bureau’s flawed screening process, which included use of an often inaccurate and incomplete FBI arrest and convictions database, according to Stacie Burgess, director of communications and external affairs for the Lawyers’ Committee.

Thousands of potentially eligible job applicants were passed over despite possibly being fully qualified for the jobs.

Anthony Gonzalez, a plaintiff in the case, spoke about his job-seeking journey. He was incarcerated in New York and upon release was unable to find work. He relocated to Florida where he struggled to obtain a job with the Census Bureau because of his criminal record.

“The Census has to redo their background checks,” Gonzalez said. “This settlement can influence public and private businesses. I’m not an evil person trying to get good, I’m a sick person, trying to get well.”

During the suit’s six years of litigation, the plaintiffs asserted that the Census Bureau’s flawed procedures violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because of their substantial adverse impact on African Americans and Latinos who were arrested at much higher rates than Whites, often for the same crimes, such as minor drug possession and use.  

One of the goals of this lawsuit is “to end the cycle of mass incarceration,” Clarke said.

Clarke referred to a study that showed job seekers with criminal history receive 50 percent fewer callbacks versus those with a clean record.

In 2010, Census Bureau director Robert Groves stood by the Census’ actions when he told a Senate subcommittee that a flagged applicant would need to “conclusively demonstrate” that “he or she does not present a current threat.”

Adam Klein, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, noted the U.S. Census Bureau later abandoned the hiring process that lead to the lawsuit and hired an outside company to manage the process.

At least one million people may benefit from the lawsuit, the lawyers said. More information about the lawsuit can be found at censusdiscriminationlawsuit.com

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