By Pamela Quigley Devata, Paul Kehoe, and Craig B. Simonsen

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have just announced two short guides on employment background checks: Background Checks: What Employers Need to Know and Background Checks: What Job Applicants and Employees Should Know.  The documents were not subject to Commissioner review
Continue Reading FTC and EEOC Publish Guide for Employers on Background Checks in Hiring

 By Pamela Devata and Paul Kehoe

On January 13, 2014, the Southern District of California granted the United States’ motion to intervene in Dowell v. General Information Services, Inc. (“GIS”), No. 13-2581, to defend the constitutionality of 15 U.S.C. § 1681c, a provision of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. GIS contends that subsections (a)(2) and (a)(5) of the provision, which generally prohibit consumer reporting agencies (“CRAs”) from disclosing public information regarding an individual’s non-conviction criminal history more than seven years old, is unconstitutional under Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc., 131 S. Ct. 2653 (2011).

The case stems from a purported class action complaint filed by three plaintiffs, alleging that GIS provided non-conviction data over seven years old in a report to a private company that regulates access and provides employee registration for military base personnel. For one plaintiff, who applied at a California military base in 2012, the report disclosed three drug counts pre-2003, including information that two had been dismissed. For a second plaintiff who applied for a position at a San Diego naval base, the report identified charges in three separate criminal cases, including felonies, along with dismissal information. Finally, the third plaintiff’s report revealed multiple charges for felonies and accurately disclosed that all had been dismissed. 

In Sorrell, the Court struck down a Vermont statute that prohibited pharmacies and data brokers from selling prescriber data if the data would be used for marketing purposes. The Court determined that because the statute permitted pharmacies and data brokers to sell the information to insurance companies, university researchers, journalists and others, that the statute imposed speaker- and content-based restrictions subject to heightened scrutiny, as is required under the Constitution. The state, therefore, failed to establish that the statute directly advanced a substantial government interest and that the measure was drawn to achieve that interest, and that statute was struck down as unconstitutional. 

In Dowell, GIS maintains that if the government could achieve its interests without restricting speech or restricting less speech, it must do so under Thompson v. Western Sates Med. Ctr., 535 U.S. 357, 371 (2002) (holding that if the Government can achieve its interests in a manner that does not restrict commercial speech, or that restricts less speech, the Government must do so). GIS argues in its motion to dismiss that the government’s purported interests — relevancy, privacy and accuracy —  do not support FCRA’s blanket prohibition on disclosure. According to GIS, less restrictive alternatives, including a restriction on employer use of the older, non-conviction data, would equally advance the government’s interest.   
Continue Reading Is FCRA’s Prohibition on CRAs from Disclosing Truthful Public Information Constitutional? The Government to Defend Its Position