Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Census Bureau sued over employment checks

Apparently I would have a hard time getting a job with the U.S. Census.

According to the a class action lawsuit filed by public interest lawyers, the way the Census puts potential employees through criminal history background checking leads to discrimination against many people. Every applicant is checked against an FBI database that contains 70 million names.

Nearly a quarter of the U.S. adult population has a criminal record in the FBI database, yet over 35% of all arrests nationwide never lead to prosecution or conviction. The FBI database is incomplete. It lacks final disposition information for about half of all of its arrest records. For millions of people, their entire criminal history consists of having been arrested and fingerprinted, and then released quickly by the police

But if you apply to the Census and are unlucky enough to show up in that database, you have 30 days to produce an "official" record showing disposition -- about something that may have happened decades ago or never have generated any paper work at the time. Since people of color are so disproportionately subjected to the attentions of the police, the lawsuit charges that this Census procedure results in racial discrimination.

Evelyn Houser is one of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit:

I worked for Census in 1990 and I've lived in my Philadelphia neighborhood for decades. The Bureau never should have put me through this confusing process about old arrest records in the first place. I'm retired, but I want to continue contributing to my community.

It has been nearly 30 years since Ms. Houser was arrested and completed a diversionary program, without being formally convicted of any crime.

Anyone reading this who has tried and failed to get hired by the Census or just wants to know more should check out the Census Worker Class Action Website.

Why wouldn't I be able to get hired by the Census? Well, I have some 8-10 civil disobedience arrests as well as having been referred to the FBI during a "no fly list" stop. And I have no "official" papers about any of that.

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