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"The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is simply the best civil rights law firm in American history." -- President Obama

NAACP LDF Seeks to Defend EEOC’s Guidance on Criminal Background Checks

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Beverly Harrison

Motion Filed Today on Behalf of Texas NAACP and Retired Grandmother
Denied Job as School Crossing Guard

(LUBBOCK, TEXAS) The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (NAACP LDF) and its co-counsel Edward B. Cloutman III of Cloutman and Cloutman, L.L.P. today filed a motion to join the U.S. Department of Justice in defending a recently filed lawsuit challenging the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) guidance on the use of criminal records in hiring.  The motion was filed on behalf of the Texas State Conference of the NAACP (Texas NAACP) and an African-American grandmother who lives in Dallas and who has been denied a job as a school crossing guard due to a conviction that is nearly forty years old.

"Our client, Beverly Harrison, a loving and devoted grandmother, is unfairly penalized in her job search for a mistake she made forty years ago, “ said Ria Tabacco Mar, NAACP LDF Assistant Counsel. “We believe that employers, including the State of Texas, can use background screening policies in a way that is fair to workers and safe for the public.  The EEOC's guidance shows them how," Ms. Mar added.

One of NAACP LDF’s clients is Beverly Harrison, a 58-year-old grandmother who was recently denied a job as a school crossing guard with Dallas County Schools due to a conviction she received nearly forty years ago.  Despite the fact that a judge in her case had set aside the conviction—and that Ms. Harrison has had an exemplary employment history, including twenty-eight years working for the city of Dallas—a criminal background check resulted in Ms. Harrison’s conditional offer of employment being withdrawn.

Every afternoon, Ms. Harrison picks up her granddaughter from school, and she was particularly excited about the prospect of being a school crossing guard because, she said, “the idea of being helpful to kids and being able to ensure their safety is important to me. You never know what a child is going to encounter walking home from school. I'm a very observant person, and when it comes to children, I have to be very observant about what's going on around them.”  Ms. Harrison, who is an avid member of her church, which her father founded fifty years ago, was disappointed that a decades-old mistake is preventing her from doing a job she would love.  “I live by being open with all I have and being able to give back to others," Ms. Harrison said.

Ms. Harrison’s experience is far from unique.  The Texas NAACP, which has more than sixty branches across the state, has worked for years to eliminate barriers faced by people with criminal records, especially in the area of employment. 

Despite the experiences of Texans like Ms. Harrison, in November 2013, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a lawsuit, State of Texas v. EEOC, challenging guidance that the EEOC issued in 2012 about how employers should use criminal history information when making employment decisions.  The EEOC’s guidance does not prohibit or discourage the use of criminal background checks when employers screen job applicants.  Instead, the EEOC cautions employers to consider factors such as the time elapsed since the criminal conduct occurred and the relationship between the criminal conduct and the job sought.  The guidance also warns employers that criminal record policies that unnecessarily exclude large numbers of racial minorities could violate federal antidiscrimination laws.  

In his lawsuit, Attorney General Abbott seeks to strip the EEOC of its power to issue the guidance and asks the court to declare that Texas has the right to impose absolute bars on hiring people with criminal convictions, even if they are decades old and unrelated to the job at issue.  LDF’s motion, if granted by the court, will allow LDF to join the Department of Justice in defending the legality of the EEOC’s guidance. 

 “We are deeply troubled by Attorney General Abbott’s attempt to use this meritless lawsuit to not only attack the EEOC’s thoughtful and well-reasoned guidance, but also to try and undermine vital civil rights laws and protections,” said Johnathan Smith, NAACP LDF Assistant Counsel.  “At a time when millions of people are still struggling to find work, the Texas Attorney General should not be working to erect barriers to employment, particularly when those barriers disproportionately and unfairly affect workers of color.”

 The intervention motion also comes only a few days after a group of 13 Texas State Senators and Representatives sent a letter to Attorney General Abbott urging him to drop this divisive lawsuit.  The lawmakers’ letter makes clear that Attorney General Abbott did not speak for all Texans when he filed this case.  “We fully support the EEOC’s guidance,” the letter reads, “and believe it is imperative that we, as a State, take steps to ensure that the 4.7 million Texans with criminal records are not needlessly denied employment.”