Greenville, SC -- BMW Manufacturing Co.'s criminal background check policy disproportionately excluded blacks from working at the company's South Carolina plant, a federal lawsuit alleges, but BMW says it has complied with the law.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges in the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Spartanburg, that BMW's policy has had a disparate impact on black employees and applicants, depriving them of employment opportunities with BMW and its suppliers of logistics services.
In a statement, BMW said Tuesday the company couldn't comment on the specifics of the complaint because of the pending litigation.
But the statement said, "BMW believes that it has complied with the letter and spirit of the law and will defend itself against the EEOC's allegations of race discrimination.
"BMW is a global company with employees in more than 140 countries around the world. We have a strong culture of non-discrimination as evidenced by the company's highly diverse workforce."
The statement also said, "The BMW plant in South Carolina employs thousands of people and providing a safe work environment is one of the company's highest priorities."
BMW is the only named defendant.
The EEOC suit said the claimants were employed by UTi Integrated Logistics Inc., which provided logistics services to BMW's Greer, S.C., facility. UTi employees unloaded and inventoried auto-part shipments, according to the suit.
UTi officials couldn't be reached for comment.
The suit against BMW seeks back pay and other relief for 69 blacks, six of whom filed charges with the EEOC, according to agency officials and court records. The remaining 63 are identified class members, EEOC officials said.
According to the EEOC's suit, BMW in 2008 switched logistics services contractors.
As part of the transition process, BMW directed that the new contractor perform criminal background checks on every UTi employee who applied for a job with the new logistics provider, the suit alleges.
The new contractor, who wasn't identified, did criminal records checks on approximately 645 UTi employees, according to the suit.
The new contractor discovered that 88 UTi employees applying for work had criminal convictions in violation of BMW's criminal conviction policy and the contractor told the automaker of the results, the suit alleges.
The suit alleges BMW then denied plant access to the employees and the new logistics contractor wouldn't hire them.
Seventy of the 88 employees, or about 80 percent, were black, according to the suit.
"The gross disparity in the rates at which black and non-black employees were denied access to the BMW facility and therefore lost their employment on account of BMW's criminal history background check policy is statistically significant," the suit alleges.
Some of the employees had worked at the BMW facility for several years, working for the various logistics services providers used by BMW since the plant opened in 1994, according to the suit.
One claimant had worked at the BMW facility for 14 years, and another had worked at the BMW facility for 12 years, according to the suit.
BMW's criminal background policy makes no distinction between felony and misdemeanor convictions, the suit alleges.
The EEOC claimed in its suit BMW violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race discrimination.
The EEOC said it filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The agency seeks lost wages and benefits, as well as reinstatement or "front pay" representing future wages and benefits, according to court records. The agency also seeks an order barring future discrimination and other injunctive relief.
"With its newly issued enforcement guidance, the EEOC affirmed its longstanding position that criminal records screening may have a disparate impact on African-Americans and Latinos, and that arrests alone are not predictive of criminal conduct," said Reuben Daniels, director of the EEOC Charlotte District Office.
"Employers must carefully evaluate the age and nature of convictions when using such information to make employment decisions," Daniels said.