BMW / Dollar General Lawsuit: Federal Government Charges Major Companies With Racism

The Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal regulatory agency that enforces laws against discrimination in the workplace, filed two  lawsuits on Tuesday against BMW Manufacturing in South Carolina and Dollar General in Illinois. The EEOC asserted that both BMW and Dollar General violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits workplace and hiring discrimination based on an applicant's or employee's race.

David Lopez, General Counsel for EEOC, claimed that the suits against BMW and Dollar General are "very serious systemic race discrimination cases." The EEOC claims that BMW and Dollar General's use of criminal-background checks "disproportionately screened out African-Americans from jobs."

NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney, ReNika Moore, commented that "People who are trying to work, trying to be productive citizens, are being blocked from jobs." And she is absolutely right. There are plenty of cases where hardworking citizens with prior convictions cannot find employment because of their previous record, but the bottom line is that companies have the fundamental right not to hire an applicant convicted of a crime.

The hard truth is that a higher percentage of blacks are convicted of crimes than whites. Therefore, when employers choose not to hire anyone with a criminal background, a larger percent of African-Americans will be affected than non-African Americans, thus giving the appearance of racial discrimination.

While the EEOC's claims of racial discrimination are not substantiated, there is merit to the claim that blacks and other minorities are disproportionately adversely affected by criminal-background checks. The two solutions to the EEOC's and NAACP's claims of racial discrimination is not in accusing businesses of racism every time they refuse to hire African-Americans with a criminal past but lies instead in combating any discrimination in our judicial system and considering types of "ban the box" legislation.

Despite only constituting 13% of the population, black people occupy 38% of state and federal prisons. Employers deserve the right to not hire people with a criminal background, so instead of asking why so many employers do not hire blacks with criminal-backgrounds, ask why do so many black people have criminal-backgrounds in the first place? Racial discrimination in our judicial system is just simply wrong.

While people convicted of crimes don't and shouldn't get special protections under civil rights laws, many deserve a second chance to rehabilitate themselves and reintegrate themselves into society. One proposed solution to giving these people an opportunity to rejoin society as contributing members are "ban the box" initiatives.

Since the recession, seven states have passed, and four additional states and several local governments are currently considering, laws preventing employers "from inquiring into the criminal record or criminal history of an applicant for employment until the applicant has been provided an opportunity for an interview."

Such laws would prohibit employers from asking about applicants' past criminal record until they are granted an interview and "equal opportunity" to be considered for employment.

"They should pay … but should they pay for it for the rest of their lives?" asked Del. Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Prince George's), a main proponent of Maryland's "ban the box" legislation. Braveboy continued, "We have a responsibility as a society to provide people with opportunities to be gainfully employed and to make better choices."

report by Pew Charitable Trusts details incarceration’s effect on economic mobility, and concludes that "The detrimental impact of incarceration on mobility merits particular attention because of the explosive growth of jails and prisons over the past three decades. With so many people and families affected, and with such concentration of the impacts among young, poorly educated men from disadvantaged neighborhoods, discussions of mobility in America must include reference to crime policy and the criminal justice system."

While Americans who break the law need to be held accountable for their crimes, once their debt to society is paid we should reintegrate these people into the productive mainstream by investing in programs that connect former inmates with the job market and prevent them from returning to a life of crime. Not only would this promise the opportunity for prosperity to millions of Americans striving for the American Dream, it could help reduce crime and our prison population, produce a more productive national work force, and separate "racial discrimination" from "criminal background discrimination."

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Benjamin Fogel

Benjamin Fogel is a Sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania's College of Arts and Sciences and intends to earn bachelor's degrees in History and Psychology. He has a special interest in the shaping and implementation of U.S. public policy, and the history and application of the Fourth Amendment. He recently worked in Geneva, Switzerland, monitoring the 26th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, where he testified on the human rights situation in the Republic of Belarus (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZiSMkpxGZA). He currently sits on the editorial board for Penn Political Review and writes for The Statesman.

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