Filed on behalf of plaintiffs Eugene Johnson, 48, of New York, and Evelyn Houser, 68, the suit is the first of its kind to be filed against a federal agency.
The lawsuit alleges the Census Bureau unlawfully screens out job applicants who have arrest records, regardless of whether the arrest led to an actual criminal conviction . . . or to nothing at all. Government records show that more than 70 million people in the US have been arrested, but more than 35 percent of all arrests nationwide never lead to prosecutions or convictions.
The lawsuit asserts that Census job applicants are screened out after their names are located in an FBI database, indicating a match with an arrest record. At that point, all job applicants are required by Census to produce official records from any criminal case that shows up on their record, within 30 days. Census does not provide job applicants with copies of their FBI records, so they are unsure whether they are responding to the cases that Census has located. In addition, the official court documentation requested by Census may be impossible to locate because the records have been sealed or expunged – or simply lost or destroyed because they are decades old.
Plaintiffs also assert that Census demands compliance with these burdensome procedures from all job applicants, not distinguishing, for instance, between job applicants who have recent, serious convictions and might not be appropriate for Census work, and those with records of minor, often non-criminal, violations such as loitering or disorderly conduct.
As the lawsuit points out, African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are far more likely to have arrest records and convictions than whites, and so Census's hiring policies discriminate against people of color in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Eugene Johnson stated, "I've lived in New York City practically all my life and have 24 years' experience in doing exactly the kind of survey work Census is hiring for. I'm good with people and am not a threat to anyone. This job would make a real difference in my life." It has been 15 years since Mr. Johnson was convicted of a misdemeanor for which he was not sentenced to any jail time.
Evelyn Houser stated, "I worked for Census in 1990 and I've lived in my Philadelphia neighborhood for decades. The Bureau never should have put me through this confusing process about old arrest records in the first place. I'm retired, but I want to continue contributing to my community." It has been nearly 30 years since Ms. Houser was arrested and completed a diversionary program, without being formally convicted of any crime.
Plaintiffs will seek to have the lawsuit certified as a class action.