Transit Authority Agrees to Settle in Background Check Suit

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) agreed to rescind its alleged comprehensive ban on hiring individuals with prior drug convictions and pay $3.6 million in damages to settle a class action claiming the authority had violated state and federal law.

Initially filed in 2016, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) suit accused SEPTA of deliberately rejecting job applicants who held prior felony drug convictions and revoking employment offers after applicants revealed those convictions. SEPTA countered the accusations, stating that it hadn't violated the FCRA because the job offers were revoked after the applicants had informed SEPTA about their criminal records and before relevant background checks were obtained. The transportation authority further argued that it hadn't violated the Criminal History Records Information Act (CHRIA) because applicants were rejected as a result of being identified as unsuitable for the jobs for which they had applied, which is permissible under the relevant state law. SEPTA also contended that these determinations were made in the interest of protecting passengers.

In 2017, U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker dismissed the suit but permitted the proposed class to amend their complaint twice. In the settlement filed earlier in January, 2021, named plaintiffs Frank Long, Joseph Shipley and Michael White (all former unsuccessful SEPTA job applicants), stated that SEPTA agreed to implement hiring changes under the guidance of a human resources consultant.

As a result of these concessions, SETPA intends to prioritize hiring approximately 300 proposed class members who were previously rejected for positions, such as bus operators and mechanics, due to their criminal convictions. SEPTA will also allocate monetary payouts to a separate class of roughly 1,200 people per the FCRA-related portion of the suit.

Employers are encouraged to review both FCRA and CHRIA guidelines when arriving at hiring decisions.

Posted: February 15, 2021

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