PHILADELPHIA and NEW YORK, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) faces more allegations from new plaintiffs that it willfully violates federal and state laws when conducting criminal background checks of prospective employees, according to Outten & Golden LLP and a coalition of legal advocates.
Filed in federal court in Philadelphia, the amended class action lawsuit accuses SEPTA, the nation’s sixth-largest public transportation system, of routinely rejecting job applicants based on information contained in reports obtained from background check companies.
The lawsuit alleges that SEPTA fails to comply with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in its procurement of consumer reports for employment purposes. According to the complaint, SEPTA fails to provide job applicants with a required “clear and conspicuous” written disclosure that it may obtain a consumer report for employment purposes. The “clear and conspicuous,” also known as “stand alone” disclosure is important to ensuring accuracy, informing applicants that a background check will be run on them, and preventing employers from distracting job applicants with unrelated information and requests.
SEPTA also is accused of routinely violating Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA) through its policy and practice of disqualifying job applicants with unrelated felony convictions from employment in positions involving the operation of SEPTA vehicles. The amended complaint includes new allegations that SEPTA fails to provide proper FCRA notices to job applicants.
The amended complaint adds plaintiffs Joseph Shipley, a 45-year-old Philadelphia resident who was offered a SEPTA job offer for a railroad supervisor manager earlier this year, and Michael White, a 33-year-old Philadelphia resident who was denied a bus operator position in 2015. Both men disclosed drug related convictions which were over 7 years old. Mr. Shipley said, “In the 15 years since my conviction, I have re-entered society as a good citizen with a solid work history. I work hard each day and would have brought the same work ethic to SEPTA. Everyone deserves a chance to grow and learn from their mistakes.”
The original named plaintiff is Frank Long, a 56-year-old Philadelphia resident and a commer-cially licensed bus driver whose October 2014 job offer for a position as a SEPTA bus operator was rescinded after he was subjected to SEPTA’s criminal background check process.
The legal team for the putative class includes Adam T. Klein, Ossai Miazad, Lewis M. Steel, Christopher M. McNerney, and Cheryl-Lyn Bentley, of Outten & Golden LLP’s New York office; Michael Lee and Michael Hardiman of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, of Philadel-phia; Jon Greenbaum and Mateya T. Kelley of Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, of Washington, D.C.; Benjamin D. Geffen of Public Interest Law Center, of Philadelphia; and Ryan Allen Hancock and Danielle Newsome of Willig, Williams & Davidson, of Philadelphia.
Ossai Miazad, partner at Outten & Golden LLP and one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs, said, “This case is about the systematic violation of laws that are intended to ensure accuracy, transparency, and fairness in hiring. By failing to follow the law’s requirements, SEPTA hinders job applicants, like Mr. Long, Mr. Shipley, and Mr. White, in their abilities to seek gainful employment and it frustrates the public policy goals of the state of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia to ensure that employers offer people with criminal records a fair opportunity to work and make hiring decisions based on applicants’ work qualifications and suitability for employment.”
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Un-der Law, said, “When employers conduct background checks on job applicants, they must com-ply with the law and ensure that the rights of job applicants are protected. Thanks to the courage of Mr. Long, Mr. Shipley, and Mr. White, this litigation is part of our comprehensive efforts to ensure that employers do not abuse background screening reports when screening job applicants.”
The plaintiffs and the legal team seek injunctive and declaratory relief; statutory damages; ex-emplary and punitive damages; pre-judgment and post-judgment interest; and reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses associated with this action.
More information about the lawsuit is available at www.SEPTAconvictiondiscrimination.com.
The case is “Frank Long, Joseph Shipley, and Michael White, et al., v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority,” No. 2:16-cv-01991-PBT, in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Media Contact: Erin Powers, Powers MediaWorks LLC, for Outten & Golden LLP, 281.703.6000, @email.