GREER, SOUTH CAROLINA (09/08/15) – Automobile manufacturer BMW Inc., USA (“BMW”) has settled a lawsuit concerning racial discrimination against African-American employees and job applicants, reported USA Today. The basis for the lawsuit stems from BMW’s 2008 policies regarding criminal conviction background checks for their Greer, South Carolina manufacturing plant.

BMW will pay $1.6M to African-American applicants they did not hire and employees who were let go because of the flawed policy in place when it came to criminal background checks. BMW also agreed to offer an employment opportunity to 90 of the applicants they did not hire and 56 of the former employees. This opportunity is not an offer for direct employment with BMW, but an offer to work at BMW’s plant as employees of an agency that provides contractual logistics workforce labor to companies instead. BMW uses these types of companies instead of hiring employees directly for some positions at the plant.

This employment lawsuit began when six requests for investigation were received by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) regarding BMW’s alleged racial discrimination in regards to hiring and retaining employees. During its investigation, the EEOC initially identified sixty-nine complainants of African-American descent. Sixty-three were lawsuit class members.

The trouble began when BMW hired a replacement logistics workforce contractor. Prior to that, BMW’s policy was that anyone with a criminal background during the past 7 years could not be hired. With the new contractor on board, new background checks was made on current employees. However, now having a criminal background from anytime in a person’s life in certain crime categories, no matter how far back and no matter whether it was a felony or misdemeanor, was reason in itself to terminate current employees and reason not to hire applicants. As a result of the new background checks, eighty-eight employees were let go. Among those, seventy were African-American and also had worked at the plant for over a decade.

The EEOC determined that BMW’s criminal background check policies had a disparate impact on African-Americans due to a disproportionate exclusion from work opportunities. When this happens with criminal background screens, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) requires that an employer has to reassess whether their policy is a true necessity for their business and to evaluate whether it is job related or not for each position.