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Convenience store chain accused of DISCRIMINATION for requiring applicants to have no criminal record

  A popular U.S. convenience store has been accused of discrimination against minorities in a lawsuit  for requiring applicants to have no c...

 A popular U.S. convenience store has been accused of discrimination against minorities in a lawsuit for requiring applicants to have no criminal record.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced via an April 18 press release that it had filed a lawsuit against 24/7 convenience store chain Sheetz. It accused the company of having discriminatory hiring practices that targeted minority applicants.

The lawsuit filed in a federal court in the state of Maryland alleges that Sheetz has maintained a long-standing practice of screening all job applicants for records of criminal conviction, and then denying them employment based on those records. This practice, the EEOC argued, had "disproportionately" screened out minority applicants – even though the agency's lawsuit does not mention outright that the company's hiring practices were motivated by race.

Per the press release, Sheetz's hiring practices allegedly violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The provision prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin. It added that the EEOC filed the lawsuit "after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process."

The agency began its investigation into Sheetz after two job applicants filed civil rights complaints alleging employment discrimination. It found that Black job applicants were deemed to have failed the company's criminal history screening.

Based on this practice, Black applicants were denied employment at a rate of 14.5 percent. Multiracial applicants were rejected at a 13.5 percent rate and Native Americans were denied at a rate of 13 percent. Fewer than eight percent of White applicants were refused employment because of a failed criminal background check, the EEOC's lawsuit stated.  

Jamie Williamson, the director of the EEOC's Philadelphia District Office, said the agency is committed to reintegrating individuals with criminal records into society by ensuring they have fair access to employment. She continued: "To that end, the EEOC is dedicated to making sure that individuals with criminal records are not unlawfully excluded from employment opportunities because of race."

Sheetz's practice is valid due to potential concerns about recidivism

"Federal law mandates that employment practices causing a disparate impact because of race or other protected classifications must be shown by the employer to be necessary to ensure the safe and efficient performance of the particular jobs at issue," said Debra Lawrence, EEOC regional attorney.

"Even when such necessity is proven, the practice remains unlawful if there is an alternative practice available that is comparably effective in achieving the employer's goals but causes less discriminatory effect."

Sheetz is a chain of gas stations and convenience stores primarily located in the Mid-Atlantic region. The family-owned company employs more than 23,000 people in its locations across six states – Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and North Carolina. Sheetz is most well-known for its customizable food options with several made-to-order dishes, frozen desserts and milkshakes available.

Nick Ruffner, public relations manager for the chain, reiterated that "Sheetz does not tolerate discrimination of any kind." He added that "diversity and inclusion are essential parts" of the company's identity, and that Sheetz takes the EEOC's allegations seriously.

"We have attempted to work with the EEOC for nearly eight years to find common ground and resolve this dispute. We will address the claims in court when the time comes."

But Sheetz's practice of conducting background checks is something to be lauded, not condemned. Hiring convicted criminals translates to business losses due to the latter's higher chance of recidivism. Given the rising crime rates in various cities, Sheetz accepting those with criminal records would essentially open the convenience store chain to more losses – and an eventual shutdown.

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