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New allegations, plaintiffs step forward in SEPTA background check violation lawsuit

May 31, 2016 / Media Coverage / Philadelphia Business Journal — Kenneth Hilario

More plaintiffs have stepped forward in a case accusing SEPTA of violating federal and state laws when it conducted criminal background checks on prospective employees.

The transit agency in late April was hit with a federal lawsuit, where Philadelphia resident and commercial bus driver Frank Long, 56, accused SEPTA of rejecting job applicants based on information contained in reports obtained from background check companies.

The original lawsuit alleged SEPTA did not comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, FCRA, and it failed to provide applicants with what is called a "clear and conspicuous" written disclosure, which is required and indicates the agency would be able to obtain a consumer report for employment purposes.

Further, SEPTA was also accused of violating the state's Criminal History Record Information Act and that it disqualified job applicants with unrelated felony convictions from employment for SEPTA vehicle operation positions.

The amended complaint added two more plaintiffs to the lawsuit: Philadelphia residents Joseph Shipley, 45, who was offered a a railroad supervisor manager job earlier this year, only to have the offer revoked later; and Michael White, 33, who was denied a bus operator position last year.

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Shipley interviewed for the position in January this year, and White interviewed for the position in April 2015. Both men disclosed drug-related convictions, according to the filing.

Shipley's record includes a 2001 drug-related convictions from a single arrest in 2000, according to the filing, and White has 2006 and 2007 drug-related convictions on his record.

According to the filing, Shipley was offered the position but was later told "not to report to work, and that his background check had not been cleared." Further, a SEPTA recruiter later said via telephone and a letter said he was denied the position because of his criminal history, the filing said.

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Shipley and White's criminal histories are not relevant to the respective positions, according to the filing, based on the nature of the crime, the age of the conviction and the years the men have been "in the general population without any further convictions."

Neither Shipley nor White received a copy of his consumer reporter or a statement of his rights under the FCRA from SEPTA, according to the filing.

“This case is about the systematic violation of laws that are intended to ensure accuracy, transparency, and fairness in hiring," Ossai Miazad, partner at employment lawfirm Outten & Golden, said in a statement.

"By failing to follow the law’s requirements, SEPTA hinders job applicants, like Mr. Long, Mr. Shipley and Mr. White, in their abilities to seek gainful employment," Miazad said, "and it frustrates the public policy goals of the state of Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia to ensure that employers offer people with criminal records a fair opportunity to work and make hiring decisions based on applicants’ work qualifications and suitability for employment."

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The legal team for the putative class includes Outten & Golden, Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Public Interest Law Center and Willig, Wiliams & Davidson.

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