U.S. Census Bureau Settles Hiring Lawsuit Over Criminal Histories

Reuters Jonathan Stempel
April 19, 2016

The U.S. Census Bureau has reached a $15 million settlement of a lawsuit claiming it discriminated against black and Hispanic job applicants with criminal histories during the 2010 census by making it too hard to document their readiness for work.

Tuesday’s accord was described in papers filed in Manhattan federal court, and requires a judge’s approval.

It requires the Census Bureau to hire two “industrial organizational” psychologists to design criminal history screening criteria for the 2020 census that limit the impact on blacks and Hispanic job applicants.

About $5 million of the payout would go toward helping notify class members of upcoming hirings, or fix mistakes in their criminal history records. Much of the remainder could go toward legal and administrative costs, court papers showed.

Though a judge in July 2014 certified a class action covering roughly 450,000 blacks and Hispanics, individual class members would not receive payments, court papers showed.

The Census Bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tuesday’s accord would end a 2010 lawsuit challenging a Census Bureau requirement that applicants with arrest records provide “official” paperwork explaining them within 30 days, including for minor offenses and regardless of whether convictions resulted.

According to court papers, the requirement ended job prospects for about 700,000 of the 3.8 million people who applied for temporary work to complete the 2010 decennial count, and disproportionately affected blacks and Hispanics.

“It just was an impossibility” for many people to provide the documentation, Ossai Miazad, a partner at Outten & Golden representing the plaintiffs, said in a telephone interview.

The settlement “is going to open up job opportunities for hundreds of thousands of African Americans and Latinos who were denied jobs in 2010,” she added. “We believe it is going to have a significant and lasting benefit to the class.”

The case is Gonzalez et al v. Pritzker, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 10-03105.