GREENVILLE, South Carolina — BMW has agreed to pay $1.6 million and provide job opportunities for dozens of former black employees who were victims of racial discrimination involving criminal background checks, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Tuesday.
The federal agency said BMW Manufacturing Co. in Greer agreed to settle the lawsuit, filed in 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.
The case involved employees working for a contractor that staffed a BMW warehouse. The contractor's policy was not to employ anyone with a criminal record within the past seven years. When a new contractor took over the company, BMW ordered a new round of criminal background checks and fired anyone with a criminal record from any year.
The commission said that of the 88 workers fired in 2008, 70 were black and some had worked for the company for more than 10 years.
"Following an investigation, EEOC filed suit alleging that blacks were disproportionately disqualified from employment as a result of the criminal conviction guidelines," an EEOC statement said. "EEOC sought relief for 56 African-Americans who were discharged. BMW has since voluntarily changed its guidelines."
The EEOC statement said that in addition to the financial relief, "BMW will offer employment opportunities to the discharged workers in the suit and up to 90- African-American applicants who BMW's contractor refused to hire based on BMW's previous conviction records guidelines."
P. David Lopez, EEOC's general counsel, said in the statement that the agency makes clear that a company may choose to use criminal history as a screening device in employment.
Lopez added, however, that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires "that when a criminal background screen results in the disproportionate exclusion of African-Americans from job opportunities, the employer must evaluate whether the policy is job related and consistent with a business necessity."
In a statement, BMW spokesman Max Metcalf said that the settlement affirms the company's right to use criminal background checks, which it uses "to ensure the safety and well-being of all who work at the BMW plant site."
He added that throughout the proceedings BMW has maintained that it did not violated the Civil Rights Act "and does not discriminate by race in its hiring as evidence by its large and high diverse workforce."