Federal Judge Grants Class Certification in Case Challenging WMATA’s Use of Overly Broad and Punitive Criminal Background Screening Policy
Former African American employees and job applicants who were terminated from, or denied positions with, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) as a result of a racially discriminatory and overly broad criminal background check policy will be permitted to proceed as a class. On April 18th, 2017, United States District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer granted class certification in Little v. Washington Metro Area Transit Authority. The case was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil rights and Urban Affairs and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, LLP on behalf of nine named plaintiffs against WMATA and three of its contractors. In granting class certification, the court allowed plaintiffs’ claims that WMATA’s policy unfairly and disproportionately limits opportunities for qualified African-American employees to move forward on behalf of all affected job applicants. Racial profiling and other discriminatory policies and practices that lead to disparities in our criminal justice system disproportionately impact African Americans in the Washington, D.C. metro area who are much more likely to be excluded from employment by WMATA’s overly punitive policies that exclude persons with certain criminal records from employment, despite that there is no evidence that the policy will enhance rider safety or organizational performance.
“The court’s decision paves the way for vindicating our clients’ rights and the rights of WMATA employees and prospective job applicants,” said Rachel Kleinman, LDF Senior Counsel. “WMATA’s criminal background check policy is unduly harsh, out of step with other jurisdictions, and limits opportunities for qualified African-American employees.“
WMATA strict background check policy has resulted in the disqualification of numerous qualified job applications with a wide range of criminal convictions without consideration of how long ago the conviction occurred or whether the conviction is relevant to the position. Many people with convictions, including ones convicted of nonviolent drug convictions, face lifetime disqualification under WMATA’s current policy. The policy violates federal and local anti-discrimination laws as well as guidance issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“Our clients are working hard to provide for themselves and their families and deserve a second chance,” said John A. Freedman, of APKS. “WMATA is telling them that because of past mistakes, they’re not qualified to work and to earn a living. This doesn’t just apply to those applying to work at WMATA, but others who have been working there for years without incident.”
LDF, WLC, and APKS look forward to proceeding to trial and resolving the case, leading to a fairer employment policy that doesn’t discriminate against African Americans.
“WMATA has the ability to adopt a hiring policy—as other entities have done—that is fair and nondiscriminatory and that does not impact the safety of the public,” said WLC’s Director of Litigation Matthew Handley.
- Faiz Siddiqui, Three pools of black workers and job applicants granted class status in discrimination suit against Metro, The Washington Post (Apr. 26, 2017)
Darryl Van Duch
Senior Manager of Media Relations
Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP
(312) 714-8555 Cell
Senior Communications Associate
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Gregg A. Kelley
Director of Development & Communications
Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
(202) 319-1000 x155
ABOUT ARNOLD & PORTER KAYE SCHOLER LLP: Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP is a law firm of more than 1,000 lawyers across nine domestic and four international offices. The firm, formed on January 1, 2017, is the result of two well-established firms – Arnold & Porter (1946) and Kaye Schholer (1917) – and which now maintains more than 30 practice areas spanning a broad spectrum of the law, with a primary focus on litigation, transactional matters, and regulatory issues, as well as a wide range of industries, including those involving the life sciences and financial services areas. For more information please visit www.apks.com.
ABOUT THE NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATIONAL FUND, INC.: Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF. For more information, please visit www.www.naacpldf.org.
ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE: The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs was established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address issues of discrimination and entrenched poverty. Since then, it has successfully handled thousands of civil rights cases on behalf of individuals and groups in the areas of fair housing, equal employment opportunity, public accommodations, immigrant rights, disability rights, public education, and prisoners’ rights. For more information, please visit www.washlaw.org.
# # # # # #