After bias claims, Target to review how it screens job applicants

Target agreed Thursday to revise guidelines for how it screens people seeking jobs at its stores, a step meant to quell complaints that the retailer discriminates against black and Hispanic applicants with criminal records that can include offenses too minor or old to affect their performance as employees.

The move comes in a labor market so tight that companies are hiring applicants they would not have considered before, including people who have criminal records or, in some cases, are still incarcerated.

Those pressing the complaints against Target said the agreement announced Thursday would create even more opportunities for fresh starts.

“Target’s background check policy was out of step with best practices and harmful to many qualified applicants who deserved a fair shot at a good job,” Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, said in a statement.

The agreement addresses a series of complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by Carnella Times, who said Target declined to hire her after running a background check in 2006.

It also seeks to resolve a potential class action filed in US District Court in New York City on Thursday by the legal defense fund and other lawyers representing Times; the Fortune Society, which works on behalf of former prisoners; and another job applicant. The settlement requires a judge’s approval.

The settlement calls for Target, which acknowledged no wrongdoing, to work with experts to adopt “valid” guidelines for how it uses criminal records in hiring and to finance a modest settlement fund. The company said it would still use background checks, but would bring in outside experts to review how the checks are used and would evaluate any recommended changes.     

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At issue was the company’s practice of conducting criminal background checks on anyone applying for hourly and entry-level jobs in the United States.

African-Americans and Hispanics are arrested and convicted at rates more than double those of whites, according to the suit, which said Target’s hiring process “systematically” eliminated thousands of qualified applicants regardless of their potential to be good employees by requiring the automatic rejection of people convicted of offenses that could include violence, theft, fraud, or drugs within the seven years of their applications.

The policy, the suit said, “imported acute racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system into the employment process, thereby multiplying the negative impact on African-American and Latino job applicants.”