Federal Judge Grants Class Certification in Case Challenging WMATA's Use of Overly Broad and Punitive Criminal Background Screening Policy

Former African American employees and job applicants who were terminated from, or denied positions with, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) as a result of a racially discriminatory and overly broad criminal background check policy will be permitted to proceed as a class.

On April 18th, 2017, United States District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer granted class certification in Little v. Washington Metro Area Transit Authority. The case was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil rights and Urban Affairs and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, LLP on behalf of nine named plaintiffs against WMATA and three of its contractors. In granting class certification, the court allowed plaintiffs’ claims that WMATA’s policy unfairly and disproportionately limits opportunities for qualified African-American employees to move forward on behalf of all affected job applicants. Racial profiling and other discriminatory policies and practices that lead to disparities in our criminal justice system disproportionately impact African Americans in the Washington, D.C. metro area who are much more likely to be excluded from employment by WMATA’s overly punitive policies that exclude persons with certain criminal records from employment, despite that there is no evidence that the policy will enhance rider safety or organizational performance.

“The court’s decision paves the way for vindicating our clients’ rights and the rights of WMATA employees and prospective job applicants,” said Rachel Kleinman, LDF Senior Counsel. “WMATA’s criminal background check policy is unduly harsh, out of step with other jurisdictions, and limits opportunities for qualified African-American employees.“

WMATA strict background check policy has resulted in the disqualification of numerous qualified job applications with a wide range of criminal convictions without consideration of how long ago the conviction occurred or whether the conviction is relevant to the position. Many people with convictions, including ones convicted of nonviolent drug convictions, face lifetime disqualification under WMATA’s current policy. The policy violates federal and local anti-discrimination laws as well as guidance issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“Our clients are working hard to provide for themselves and their families and deserve a second chance,” said John A. Freedman, of APKS. “WMATA is telling them that because of past mistakes, they’re not qualified to work and to earn a living. This doesn’t just apply to those applying to work at WMATA, but others who have been working there for years without incident.”

LDF, WLC, and APKS look forward to proceeding to trial and resolving the case, leading to a fairer employment policy that doesn’t discriminate against African Americans.

“WMATA has the ability to adopt a hiring policy—as other entities have done—that is fair and nondiscriminatory and that does not impact the safety of the public,” said WLC’s Director of Litigation Matthew Handley. “


Media Highlights

Washington Post (April 26, 2017)

Media Contacts
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Phoebe Plagens
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
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Gregg A. Kelley

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Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs

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