Fair Credit Reporting Act applied to criminal records

The following is a summary of how the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) applies to criminal background checks, written by Sharon Dietrich of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.  More detailed information about FCRA’s interpretation and enforcement is available in this 2011 FTC report.  Current information about FCRA’s enforcement as applied to criminal records will appear in the upcoming third edition of Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction: Law Policy and Practice.  

Where a criminal record report is provided to an employer by a credit reporting agency (“CRA”), the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq, is applicable. See Beaudette, FTC Informal Staff Opinion Letter, June 9, 1998 (available here).  FCRA creates obligations both on CRAs preparing criminal background reports and on employers using them.

Among the duties of CRAs compiling criminal background reports for employers are the following:

  • CRAs may not report arrests or other adverse information (other than convictions of crimes) which are more than seven years old, provided that the report does not concern employment of an individual who has an annual salary that is $75,000 or more.   15 U.S.C. §§ 1681c(a)(5), 1681c(b)(3).
  • CRAs must use “reasonable procedures” to insure “maximum possible accuracy” of the information in the report.  15 U.S.C. §1681e(b).
  • Elements of cause of action: (1) Inaccurate information in report; (2) inaccuracy due to CRA’s failure to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy; (3) consumer suffered injury (can include emotional injury); and (4) injury was caused by inaccurate entry.  Crane v. Trans Union, 282 F. Supp. 2d 311 (E.D. Pa. 2003)(Dalzell) (citing Philin v. Trans Union Corp., 101 F. 3d 957, 963 (3d Cir. 1996)).
  • A CRA reporting public record information for employment purposes which “is likely to have an adverse effect on the consumer’s ability to obtain employment” must either notify the person that the public record information is being reported and provide the name and address of the person who is requesting the information at the time that the information is provider to the user or the CRA must maintain strict procedures to insure that the information it reports is complete and up to date.  15 U.S.C. §1681k.

Uber sued over illegal background checks and employee policies

phones-signup@1x.8d8db861ab2ef63dc666a89f3e8f5135In recent months, heightened attention has been paid to the background check practices of the ride-sharing company Uber. Concerns about the safety of Uber services prompted the District Attorney’s Offices of San Francisco and Los Angeles Counties to file suit last December against Uber for misleading customers about the scope of its driver background checks. As discussed in a previous post, Uber has largely resisted efforts by legislators to mandate more intensive background checks, but the pressure continues to mount.

This pressure for enhanced background checks has raised another area of concern: the manner in which Uber conducts background checks, and the impact of its employment practices on drivers and prospective drivers.  At the end of 2014, our organizations, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and the law firm Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho, filed a putative, nationwide class action lawsuit against Uber, based in part on its violation of federal and state background check laws.

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Louisiana’s new expungement law: How does it stack up?

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Louisiana has far and away the largest prison population of any state in the country (847 per 100,000 people — Mississippi is second with 692 per), but until last year there was little that those returning home after serving felony sentences could do to unshackle themselves from their criminal records and the collateral consequences that accompany them. While Louisiana has for years authorized expungement of misdemeanor convictions and non-conviction records, the only relief available to convicted felony offenders was a governor’s pardon — very few of which have been granted in Louisiana in recent years. Most people convicted of a felony in the state, no matter how long ago and no matter how serious the conduct, were stuck with it.* That’s why we were interested to learn that in 2014 Louisiana enacted a brand new freestanding Chapter 34 of its Code of Criminal Procedure to consolidate and extend the law governing record expungement to many felonies.

We decided to find out what the new law offers to those with felony records, and how it stacks up against the three other new comprehensive expungement schemes in Arkansas, Indiana, and Minnesota. We found that while a relatively large number of people with felony convictions are newly eligible for expungement relief, the law’s effectiveness is hampered by 1) unreasonably long waiting periods and 2) limited effectiveness in mitigating collateral consequences related to employment and licensure. Read more

Federal regulation of criminal background checking

FINGERPRINTTwenty years ago, criminal record background checks for employment were rare. Today, the easy accessibility of criminal records on the Internet, and the post-September 11th culture of heightened scrutiny, have contributed to a sharp increase in background checks of job candidates.  If you’re applying for jobs in most industries, expect employers to ask about a criminal record at some point in the hiring process—and expect many of them to run a background check on you.

It’s a harsh reality for an estimated one in four U.S. adults who have some type of criminal record.  Unfortunately, any involvement with the criminal justice system—even having minor or old offenses—could become a job obstacle for these 70 million Americans. Even if you’ve avoided a run-in with the law, you could still find yourself being unfairly screened out for a job due to an erroneous background check report. With thousands of private background check companies across the country that have varying levels of reliable information, inaccuracies in these reports are far too common.

Unknown to many job candidates, private background check companies and the employers relying on their reports are regulated by a federal consumer protection law called the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).  Although more well-known in the credit report context, FCRA also applies to companies that produce criminal background check information, and gives job-seekers a number of protections.

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