Target Settles Law Suit Regarding Criminal History Screening

Target Corp. entered into a preliminary settlement on April 5th to resolve charges of discrimination in using criminal history records in making hiring determinations for hourly and entry-level non-exempt positions. This settlement comes the same day Fortune Society filed a class action against Target in NY federal district court on the same matter.

According to the lawsuit, the allegation was that Target “has in the past and continues to use a job applicant screening process that systematically eliminates thousands of qualified African American and Latinos from jobs based on their race or national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Specifically, the lawsuit takes issue with Target’s criminal background checks. The allegation is that the checks screened out applicants based on prior convictions that were either unrelated to the job or had occurred long before application to the job of interest. Additionally, the suit alleges that Target also “systematically eliminated from consideration job applicants who it contends ‘falsified’ their criminal histories in their applications without probing the nature of any discrepancy between the applications and the result of the criminal history search.

The suit included assertions that:

(a)  African Americans and Latinos are arrested and convicted of crimes at more than double the rate of whites,
(b)  Any selection procedure that has disparate impact must have a “manifest relationship to the employment in question”,
(c)  exclusions based on criminal records are valid only when the exclusion “operates to effectively link specific criminal conduct, and its dangers, with the risks inherent in the duties of a particular position”,
(d)  “there are no reliable studies or empirical data to suggest that applicants with criminal records are more likely to engage in terminable offenses”, and
(e)  The over-inclusiveness of Target’s screening process did not meet the standards of job-relatedness or consistency with business necessity.

Target agreed to a $3.74 million settlement to fully resolve and satisfy all relief, which includes a $600k donation to the Pipeline Project (which provides re-entry support to individuals with a criminal history), and priority hiring for settlement class members.  Another term of the settlement is that the parties will contract with industrial-organizational psychologists to revise Target’s criminal background check process.

This settlement demonstrates the importance of validating any process used in selecting employees, whether it be a paper-and-pencil test or a background check.


By Emilee Tison, Ph.D. and Michael Aamodt, Ph.D. Principal Consultant at DCI Consulting Group

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