On June 2, former Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to the Chicago City Council asking it not to make Uber and Lyft do FBI background checks on their drivers as a condition of operating within the metropollitan area. The ride-sharing companies have argued that they should be permitted to vet their own employees. Mr. Holder’s points out that FBI records are incomplete and thus misleading, and that they are intended for law enforcement purposes, not to screen applicants for employment.
Mr. Holder, whose tenure at the Justice Department was notable for efforts to highlight the problems faced by people returning to the community from prison, then argues more broadly that perfoming background checks on applicants for employment disadvantages communities of color. In this regard, he notes that 80% of African-American men of working age in Chicago have a criminal record, and only half of them are employed. (This seems to present another one of those “ampersand” situations that so frequently arise these days in the criminal law context.). He concludes by stating that screening employees through FBI record checks is “both unwise and unfair.”
Mr. Holder’s letter does not indicate the context in which it is written, or whether He represents an interested party — though it is written on his law firm stationery so it seems fair to assume he is writing in behalf of either Uber or Lyft, or perhaps both.
Chicago would not be the first city to provoke controversy by requiring ride-sharing companies to perform fingerprint-based FBI background checks on their employees and applicants for employment. For example, Uber and Lyft pulled out of Austin, Texas, after the city council voted to impose the same background check requirements on ride-share drivers as are required for taxi drivers. At the same time, reports of driver attacks on ride-sharing passengers raise public concern about the effectiveness of self-regulation. It seems clear that we have not heard the last of this issue.