The federal group that works to make sure Americans get fair and equal job chances is suing two very large companies, accusing them of discrimination.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed lawsuits Wednesday against Dollar General and BMW. Both have stores in Jacksonville.
In the complaint, the EEOC accuses them of using background checks to discriminate against minorities.
The agency says it's not right to have a blanket policy to not hire those with criminal backgrounds because it says that puts blacks and other minorities at a disadvantage when finding work. The agency says Dollar General and BMW did just that.
"There's nothing wrong with employers using a criminal conviction's records check in their hiring or selection process, unless their use of it has what lawyers call a dispaired impact," said John Hendrickson, one of the attorneys representing EEOC. "That is an adverse impact against any minority group and tends to exclude a minority group at a greater rate than, say, white people."
Hendrickson said EEOC is standing up for workers' rights. The commission chose to sue BMW after the company ran new background checks for some of its employees in South Carolina. According to the EEOC, 88 people lost their jobs, and 70 of those were African-Americans.
In a separate case, the EEOC is suing Dollar General stores for using background checks to weed out job applicants. Those with the commission say both companies are discriminating against blacks and other minorities who statistically face a higher percentage of criminal convictions.
"We're not going to go around asking bankers to hire somebody with a 1-year-old conviction for embezzlement," Hendrickson said. "But the burden is on the employer once discrimination is shown to say there may be discrimination there, but it only arises because our test is picking up people whose convictions relate to the jobs we have to offer."
Local employment attorney Richard Margulies said the agency is trying to use these cases to set an example.
"What the EEOC is trying to do is address this concept of one size fits all," Margulies said. "If you filled out an employment application you've probably seen on the app, 'Have you ever been convicted of a crime?' The EEOC literally wants to ban that box. They don't want that to be part of an employment application."
Margulies said that doesn't mean employers have to hire someone with a criminal background, but the EEOC thinks they should give the job applicants the chance to explain the circumstances instead of being disqualified right away.
"Give the employee an opportunity to come back, explain what happened," Margulies said.
Channel 4 safety analyst Ken Jefferson says whichever way the case goes, background checks should remain a big part of the hiring process.
Both BMW and Dollar General say they're going to fight the allegations and say they have a long history of being equal opportunity and non-discriminatory companies to work for.