Class Action Alleges Black Applicants Disproportionately Harmed by New York Life Insurance Co. Background Checks
Hughes-Phillips v. New York Life Insurance Company
Filed: December 3, 2020 ◆§ 1:20-cv-10158
A class action alleges New York Life Insurance Co.'s practice of denying jobs to qualified applicants due to past arrests resolved in the individual's favor is discriminatory and disproportionately harms Black applicants.
New York Life Insurance Company faces a proposed class action over its alleged policy and practice of denying jobs to qualified applicants on the basis of past arrests that never resulted in a conviction.
The 14-page lawsuit, filed in Manhattan federal court, says it is per se illegal in the state and city of New York for an employer to inquire about arrests or use them as a basis to deny employment when the charge was resolved in an individual’s favor. According to the suit, New York Life’s hiring procedures have a “pernicious societal effect” in that Black job applicants are disproportionately harmed.
“New York Life’s hiring practices flout New York law, treating individuals as guilty of crimes for which they were never convicted, and inverting the fundamental U.S. legal principle that an individual is innocent until proven guilty,” the complaint alleges.
The New York State Human Rights Law makes it illegal for an employer to ask about arrests that were terminated in favor of the applicant, require applicants to answer questions about such arrests or take adverse action on the basis of such arrests, the lawsuit says, with the New York City Human Rights law backing up the state statute. Together, the statutory protections “reflect New York’s judgment that individuals should not be denied employment based on allegations that were never substantiated or proven in court,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit emphasizes that strong enforcement of the state and city human rights laws is critical due to the destructive racial impact that can result from screening job applicants on the basis of their record.
“For example, according to the New York State Computerized Criminal History repository, in 2018 Black individuals made up 15% of the population of New York State, but 38% of those arrested and 45% of those arrested for felonies,” the complaint says. “In contrast, white individuals made up 55% of the population of New York State, but only 33% of arrests and only 27% of felony arrests.”
If a policy that screens for arrests is allowed to go on, it will continue to disproportionately impact the hiring prospects of Black applicants, the complaint relays.
New York Life, as part of its routine policy and practice, uses information from a third-party consumer reporting agency to collect criminal history information on job applicants regardless of whether an arrest was resolved in an individual’s favor, the complaint claims. Further, New York Life, a Fortune 100 company and one of the largest insurers in the country, accesses the FBI’s fingerprint database to collect additional information on applicants, including arrest information regardless of whether an arrest was resolved in the individual’s favor, per the case. In the interview process, the defendant also inquires about and requires applicants to respond to questions about their criminal history, even if arrests were resolved in their favor, the suit says.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff, an Irvington, New Jersey resident, applied to work for New York Life around April 2019 as a customer service professional. The plaintiff was offered the position in a letter dated June 13, 2019 and was asked by New York Life in a letter four days later to undergo a background check that included a search for convictions and arrests, the suit says.
On July 1, the plaintiff received from the defendant’s human resources department a correspondence that identified arrests from 2010 and 2017 that were revealed in the background check process, the case says. The lawsuit stresses that each arrest was dismissed and resolved in the plaintiff’s favor, and the plaintiff has never been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor crime.
Days later, the plaintiff provided requested documentation, i.e. all “relevant documentation and a written explanation of each criminal charge,” to New York Life, and again provided more evidence over the following days that both arrests were resolved in her favor, according to the suit. Nevertheless, New York Life rescinded its job offer to the plaintiff in August 2019 on the basis of the woman’s background report.
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