State and federal laws prohibit Minnesota employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of race, but it is not always easy to prove when race discrimination has taken place. In some cases, employers may say that they made decisions based on legitimate business concerns and not on race, but the results of those decisions affected employees of one race much more than employees of other races. In employment law, this is called "disparate impact," and it represents an important aspect of anti-discrimination laws.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently announced that it had filed a lawsuit against BMW. The EEOC argued that one of the German company's U.S. factories practiced a criminal background check policy that had a discriminatory disparate impact on African Americans.
According to the EEOC, BMW brought in a new contractor at a South Carolina plant in 2008, and required employees of the previous contractor to reapply for their jobs. As part of the reapplication process, BMW told the new contractor to conduct new criminal background checks on all applicants, including those who had worked for the old contractor, and to deny jobs to any that had criminal convictions on their record.
After the new criminal background checks were completed, out of all 645 experienced employees, 88 were not rehired. Seventy percent of these employees were African American. African Americans accounted for only 55 percent of the plant's employees overall, but they accounted for about 80 percent of those who were not rehired. Studies have shown that African Americans are convicted of criminal charges at rates that are disproportionate to their percentage of the population. Thus, African American employees are statistically more likely to run afoul of a criminal background check.
It is not against the law for an employer to require a criminal background check, but EEOC guidelines say that employers should take into consideration the nature of the crime, how long ago it took place and the nature of the job. BMW has denied that it was acting out of racial bias, but an EEOC spokesperson said that the plant's actions amounted to racial employment discrimination.
Proving discrimination at work is often very difficult, and disparate impact cases are especially tricky. Minnesota workers who feel that they were mistreated because of their race should get help understanding the applicable laws and their legal options. Discrimination is never right, and victims of it have legal options to seek justice.
Source: CNN Money, "BMW hit with discrimination lawsuit from EEOC," James O'Toole, June 11, 2013.