Hertz accused of unauthorized background checks on job applicants

Original article appeared in SF Gate.

by bob egelko

Civil rights lawyers sued Hertz Corp. and its background-checks contractor on Tuesday, accusing them of blindsiding job applicants by looking up their criminal records and withholding or withdrawing job offers without giving them a chance to challenge the reports.
A federal law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, requires private employers to get applicants’ written consent before checking their criminal records or credit history, said lawyers in the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. When a report contains damaging information, the lawyers said, the employer must give the applicant a copy and a chance to correct any errors.
“A significant percentage of these (criminal background) reports … contain incomplete, inaccurate, misleading, or improper records that can erroneously disqualify a job applicant,” the suit said. It said Hertz, the car rental giant, routinely rejects job applicants based on background reports that are never shown to the applicant.

The company’s practice “deprives job-seekers of their rights,” said plaintiffs’ lawyer Katrina Eiland. She was joined in the case by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which has argued that employers’ use of criminal records disproportionately harms poor and minority job applicants.

Some states have started to prohibit employers from asking job applicants whether they have criminal records. California enacted such a ban for state and local government jobs last year, and San Francisco later expanded that ban to private companies with more than 20 employees. Both laws allow employers to conduct full background checks after an initial interview, subject to the restrictions in federal law.
Hertz, which owns the Dollar, Thrifty and Firefly car rental companies, operates at more than 1,700 U.S. airports. Hertz declined to comment, saying it had not yet reviewed the lawsuit.
The suit was filed as a proposed nationwide class action by Peter Lee of Richmond. Lawyers said Lee was working for another car-rental company at San Francisco International Airport when he was recruited by the Dollar/Thrifty rental outlet at the airport in May 2014. He was interviewed, passed a drug test, got a job offer and sent his employer a notice that he was leaving, the suit said.
Six days before he was scheduled to start, Hertz said it was withdrawing the offer because of information uncovered in Lee’s criminal background check. Lee had been charged in June 2012 with possessing drugs for sale, charges that were still pending in 2014, the suit said. It did not say how the charges were ultimately resolved, and Lee’s lawyers declined to elaborate.
Neither Hertz nor its contractor, Sterling Infosystems, had notified Lee of the background check, obtained his consent or given him a chance to see and comment on his records, as the law requires, the suit said. Eiland, his lawyer, said Lee was able to keep his job with his previous employer.
She also said the practices aren’t unique to Hertz.
“We understand that companies frequently violate the (Fair Credit Reporting Act) and often outsource certain obligations to companies like Sterling,” Eiland said.
The suit seeks unspecified damages and court orders requiring Hertz and Sterling to comply with the law.