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Bad Credit History is a New Form of Discrimination

A company is not allowed to refuse to hire Latinos or blacks because of a criminal record or bad credit.

In a recent move to even greater equity in the workplace, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is warning companies that they may not use credit history information as criteria for hiring or firing. This comes about as a result of the EEOC suing Kaplan Higher Education Corp. for doing precisely that – using credit history information that had a major “disparate impact on black job applicants.”

Another of the EEOCs lawsuits is against Freeman Cos., sued for using criminal records and credit checks to screen applicants for their national events and exhibition marketing company. The EEOC is bound and determined to erase racism and “colorism” from the workplace. And if the statistics are any indication, they have their work cut out for them, as the number of workplace discrimination suits shot up to 99,922 in 2010.

These particular lawsuits are the tip of the iceberg in an initiative to dissolve what is referred to as arbitrary barriers for minorities to find work. Is this controversial? Yes, because the lack definition of what has an adverse effect on blacks and other minorities has always been a hot button and the focal point of disputes. It is one facet of discrimination law that troubles many Chicago employment lawyers and the courts.

The EEOC indicates that things such as background checks may wrongly exclude a large majority of minority job applicants. On the other side of the fence, many employment lawyers feel that if the criteria for hiring is not racially motivated and it is used for everyone who applies for a job, then it is not racially discriminatory. Put another way, it is not anyone else’s business (i.e. the government) to try and second-guess hiring practices unless the job applicants are being treated differently because of their race.

Of interest is that the Supreme Court has not viewed the “disparate impact” with any degree of favor over the years. In fact, two years ago, they ruled that the City of New Haven had discriminated against white firefighters who had high scores when it chucked out a promotion test because it had an adverse impact on black firefighters. Unfortunately, the court did not see fit at the time to clarify the issue any further.

Such hiring practices are not inherently illegal even if they do happen to have a negative impact on minorities. But, having said that, the employer must be able to demonstrate that the hiring criteria is necessary for the job being applied for in the first place; something that is not always easy to do.

If you happen to be facing a situation that you feel is adversely affecting your ability to get a job, then you need to speak to a highly qualified Chicago employment lawyer. You need to find out your rights, how the law as it exists applies to your case and what your options are in dealing with your situation.

Timothy Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. To learn more or to contact a Chicago employment attorney, visit