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Use of arrest records at heart of class action suit against U.S. Census Bureau

  • Written by Outten & Golden LLP
  • Published in National
Census
Did the U.S. Census Bureau unlawfully screen out approximately 250,000 African-Americans from temporary jobs for the 2010 census?
 
That’s the assertion in a class action lawsuit certified by a New York federal court on Monday (July 1st), the eve of the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Right Act of 1964.
 
U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas’ 61-page opinion ensures that the lawsuit, pursued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, will go forward as a class action on behalf of African-American job applicants who were denied Census Bureau employment because of its criminal background check policy.
Filed in April 2010, the lawsuit alleges that in hiring nearly a million temporary workers, most of whom went door to door seeking information from residents, the Census Bureau erected unreasonable, largely insurmountable, hurdles for applicants with arrest records – regardless of whether the arrests were decades old, for minor charges, or led to criminal convictions.
The court designated plaintiffs from Philadelphia, Detroit, and Stamford, Conn. as class representatives. The legal team for the plaintiffs, which were appointed as class counsel, includes lawyers from Outten & Golden LLP, and the Center for Constitutional Rights; Community Legal Services of Philadelphia; Community Service Society, of New York; Indian Law Resource Center, of Helena, Mont.; LatinoJustice PRLDEF of New York; Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, of Washington, D.C.; and Public Citizen Litigation Group, of Washington, D.C.
 
Government records show that more than 70 million people in the U.S. have been arrested, but at least 35 percent of all arrests nationwide never lead to prosecutions or convictions. National statistics also confirm that African-Americans and Latinos suffer a disproportionately high percentage of arrests as compared to Whites.
 
Most of the job applicants covered by the class action received a form letter from the government, advising them to provide official court records of all arrests within 30 days. The lawsuit alleges that the "30-day" letter's ambiguity and failure to provide basic information such as the arrests for which documentation was requested created confusion and set up applicants for non-compliance and rejection.
 
In July 2009, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission advised the Census Bureau that its criminal background screening process could violate federal law.
 
Adam Klein, of Outten & Golden LLP, said, "We look forward to a trial of this case. The evidence will show the Census Bureau excluded many people who, on a fair review of their records, met federal standards for having no relevant criminal history. It's ironic that while the Bureau promoted its desire in 2010 to better reach communities at risk of being undercounted –particularly low-income people of color – by hiring within those communities, it then discriminated against members of those very communities."
 
The court also ruled that the class action cannot at this time include Latinos who were screened out as Census Bureau job applicants and included in the original complaint. If the plaintiffs are able to identify a suitable Latino class representative, the court said, they may seek to amend the lawsuit and the class certification order.
 
(The case is "Evelyn Houser, et al., v. Penny Pritzker, Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce," No. 1:10-cv-03105-FM, in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.)
 
(More information about the case is available at www.censusdiscriminationlawsuit.com.)
 
SOURCE: Outten & Golden LLP

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