Pa. Transit Authority Sued Over Applicant Background Checks

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority was hit with a proposed class action in Pennsylvania federal court Wednesday accusing the agency of not sufficiently notifying job applicants of its use of credit checks and of discriminating against those convicted of drug felonies.

Named plaintiff Frank Long alleges he and potentially thousands of applicants weren’t provided the proper written disclosure that they could be subjected to a consumer report, as required by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. SEPTA is also violating Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act through a blanket policy of rejecting any applicant with a felony drug conviction for a job involving the operation of vehicle, Long said.

“SEPTA routinely and systematically violates CHRIA by considering and denying employment to job applicants based on criminal conviction(s) that do not relate to the applicants’ suitability for employment in the positions for which they have applied,” Long said.

Long was allegedly rejected for an October 2014 bus operator position, after having initially been offered the job, because he had a 1997 drug possession and manufacturing conviction based on a 1994 arrest.

That conviction should have no bearing on the bus operator position because of the nature of the crime, as well as the length of time Long has gone without any further convictions, according to the complaint, which noted Long was working as a bus driver with a Philadelphia school bus company at the time he applied for the SEPTA job.

According to the complaint, consumer check disclosures need to come in a document whose sole purpose is to clearly notify applicants of a potential review. Long said he encountered SEPTA’s version when filling out a form upon being verbally offered the job the same day he was interviewed, contingent on his background check clearing.

“The SEPTA form was not only unclear and inconspicuous, but, in addition, it did not ‘consist solely of the disclosure’ that a consumer report may be procured for employment purposes, and instead contained numerous statements and requests in clear violation of the requirements set out by FCRA,” Long said.

The suit seeks to represent every SEPTA job applicant denied a proper consumer report disclosure within the last two years and any applicant denied a vehicle maintenance or non-paratransit driving job in that period based on drug-related convictions more than seven years old. The complaint noted that SEPTA employs around 9,000 people and contended that the potential classes could be vast, arguing that all have faced the same insufficient disclosures and overly broad disqualification policy.

An attorney for Long, Ossai Miazad of Outten & Golden LLP, said Wednesday that the class number is certainly in the thousands. Miazad criticized SEPTA’s drug conviction disqualification policy as too broad, noting that it has no time limit for how far back a felony conviction can upend an application.

“We don’t believe it’s job-related to have something that broad,” Miazad told Law360, arguing that such hiring practices are rightly getting more scrutiny for the detrimental impact they have on individuals and the community.

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Long is represented by Ossai Miazad, Adam T. Klein, Lewis M. Steel, Christopher M. McNerney and Cheryl-Lyn Bentley of Outten & Golden LLP, Jon Greenbaum and Mateya Kelley of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Michael Lee and Michael Hardiman of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, Benjamin D. Geffen of the Public Interest Law Center, and Ryan Allen Hancock and Danielle Newsome of Willig Williams & Davidson.

The case is Long v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, case number 2:16-cv-01991 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.