Target Changes Criminal Background Check Policy After Discrimination Lawsuit

The lawsuit, which was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, alleged Target's hiring system discriminated against African Americans and Latinos because of “systemic discrimination in the criminal justice system” leading to higher incarceration rates for people of color.

MINNEAPOLIS – Target will no longer automatically reject job applicants with a criminal background following a lawsuit claiming the company’s hiring process discriminated against African Americans and Latinos.

Target has agreed to pay $3.74 million to settle a class-action lawsuit claiming its hiring process disproportionately harmed African Americans and Latinos by automatically rejecting applicants with a criminal background.

The lawsuit, which was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, alleged the hiring system discriminated against African Americans and Latinos because of “systemic discrimination in the criminal justice system” leading to higher incarceration rates for people of color. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund claimed Target’s hiring process asked broad and outdated questions about job applicants’ criminal histories, leaving otherwise seemingly qualified applicants to be excluded from job opportunities.

“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,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. “Criminal background information can be a legitimate tool for screening job applicants, but only when appropriately linked to relevant questions such as how long ago the offense occurred and whether it was a non-violent or misdemeanor offense.”

Ifill echoed the lawsuit, claiming “widespread discrimination at every stage in the criminal justice system” causes people of color to have disproportionately high criminal records in comparison to whites. This leads companies like Target to “unfairly limit opportunities.”

“Overly broad background screenings unfairly limit opportunities for Black and Latino applicants due to widespread discrimination at every stage in the criminal justice system,” Ifill added.

Over a decade ago, Target began using criminal background checks as a part of their hiring process. Over the years, the company’s policies have been revised, most notably removing the criminal history question from their employment application nationwide. Instead, the company gathers criminal background information in the “final stages” of the hiring process.

“Individuals are given an opportunity to explain their criminal history and provide information about the circumstances, mitigating factors, good conduct and rehabilitation,” the company said in a statement. “We exclude applicants whose criminal histories could pose a risk to our guests, team members or property, and design our process to treat all applicants fairly while maintaining a safe and secure working and shopping environment for team members and guests.”

Target did not challenge any of the allegations, instead agreeing to make changes to their policies. As a part of the settlement, Target will hire independent consultants to review their hiring policies and make revisions. The consultants will focus on revising the policies so that only applicants whose criminal record is related to the job they are applying for or recent enough to pose a “realistic threat” will be disqualified. Target has also agreed to donate $600,000 to nonprofit organizations that help individuals with a criminal background to find employment.

Also included in the settlement, Target will also offer priority hiring or interviewing for African Americans and Latinos who were denied a job at Target since May 2006 because of a criminal record. Applicants who would no longer benefit from the job can seek a $1,000 cash award.

While criminal background checks will no longer be an automatic disqualification, Target said it still believes knowing the criminal conviction history of an potential employee is important to keep their stores safe.

“We still believe it is important to consider an individual’s criminal conviction history as part of the overall hiring process,” the company said.

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