Beverly Harrison was standing at an intersection around the corner from McNair Elementary School in Dallas, Texas. It was her second week as a crossing guard, and she was still getting used to the new job. Suddenly, someone emerged from the building to deliver a message: Human Resources wanted to see her. Harrison, 61, went to the office and was told something came up on her background check—an assault charge from 1975. She should turn in her things, they said. Dallas County Schools, after discovering she had a criminal record, was letting her go.
Harrison still lives with the consequences of something she did when she was 19 years old. She got into a fight and was charged with aggravated assault in the third degree. Since then, she’s never been convicted of another crime and has worked other jobs for the city, including in its Marshal’s Office, which provides various court and detention services. But more than 40 years later, that one incident from her past remains an obstacle for her to get and maintain employment.
Black Americans are incarcerated at six times the rate of whites, the Pew Research Center has found. That was a primary reason why the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission passed an enforcement guidance in 2012 that said Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act forbids blanket employment discrimination of people with records. The guidance, which passed by a bipartisan 4-1 vote, said that because people from low-income communities of color are so disproportionately convicted of crimes, hiring policies that place absolute bars on candidates with a conviction will, by extension, discriminate against minorities.
“There are a number of different examples that make us wary that this administration will zealously defend the guidance, or even more, might just change positions or do something to settle the case or to otherwise undermine the guidance both inside and outside the context of this litigation,” said Leah Aden, senior counsel for the NAACP LDF.
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