ILR School program remedies class-action settlement

As part of a landmark class-action settlement between the U.S. Department of Commerce and African-American and Latino plaintiffs represented by Outten & Golden, ILR’s Labor and Employment Law Program is slated to begin a $4.9 million contract with the law firm.

The contract is to establish the Records Assistance Program, which will provide educational support to help African-American and Latino members of the 450,000-person lawsuit understand and correct mistakes in their criminal records.

Labor and Employment Law Program Director Esta R. Bigler ’70 will lead the Records Assistance Program. Work will include data collection from the class-action suit members that can provide insight into the effectiveness of interventions called for in the settlement.

“The hope is that this settlement will help people learn how to resolve discrepancies in their criminal records to enable them to present potential employers with accurate documents and increase employment,” Bigler said. “The data collected during this project will offer unparalleled research opportunities for developing effective strategies for increasing the employment of citizens returning to the workplace.”

Of the approximately 4 million people who applied for part-time 2010 Census jobs, 850,000 received a letter notifying them their applications were flagged for criminal histories by the Census Bureau’s use of what Bigler describes as the often inaccurate and incomplete FBI arrest and convictions database.

The letter requested applicants to provide paperwork explaining their record within 30 days. Those unable to provide the proper paperwork in this time period were rejected.

According to Bigler, the 30-day paperwork requirement had a disproportionate impact on African-Americans and Latinos as they are more likely to have record histories compared to applicants of other races.

The settlement, which follows more than five years of litigation, calls for the government to hire two experienced industrial organizational psychologists to develop a hiring selection process intended to greatly reduce the number of applicants refused employment based on their criminal histories.

The settlement offers two remedy options for members of the class action:

  • The first, the Records Assistance Program, is designed to provide class members with information on correcting mistakes in their criminal records to help ensure that they are not rejected by future employers. The program will be administered by ILR’s Labor and Employment Law Program.
  • The second option involves a notification process from the Census Bureau giving class-action members advance notice and information related to hiring for temporary positions with the 2020 census.

For the past eight years, Bigler said, ILR’s Labor and Employment Law Program has been in the forefront of bringing together diverse parties for dialogue, education and research on reducing barriers to employment for people with criminal records.

In addition to the Records Assistance Program, a faculty group has been formed to develop a research agenda, Bigler said.

Stephen D’Angelo is an ILR School marketing communications specialist.

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Melissa Osgood