Class actions against employers for violations of the FCRA are increasing

An auto parts company (CA USDC Case No. 2:14-cv-3470) and a hotel chain (CA USDC Case No. 3:14-cv-01089) are just the latest employers that have been slapped with class action lawsuits for alleged violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (the “FCRA”) charging willful non-compliance with the FCRA’s disclosure, authorization, and/or notice requirements. And the payouts in such lawsuits can be in the millions. Within the past three years, a national trucking company reached a settlement for $4.6 million, a national retail chain for $3 million and a national pizza maker for $2.5 million.

The FCRA allows an applicant or employee to bring a private right of action against an employer who negligently or willfully fails to comply with any of the FCRA’s requirements. Under the statute of limitations, an action must be brought by the earlier of (1) two years after the date of violation discovery by the plaintiff, or (2) five years after the date on which the violation occurred. The employer’s liability for negligent non-compliance is actual damages sustained by the applicant/employee, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. A willful violation carries actual or statutory damages ranging between $100 and $1,000, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.

Below are general FCRA compliance reminders to employers when procuring and using background check reports prepared by a consumer reporting agency (“CRA”):

  • Provide disclosure to the applicant/employee in a standalone document that a consumer report may be obtained and used for employment purposes (language must be clear, with no superfluous information or liability waiver, and separate from the employment application);
  • Provide to the applicant/employee a summary of rights under the FCRA and applicable state notices;
  • Obtain the applicant/employee’s authorization for the consumer report;
  • Before taking adverse action based on the report (1) provide a pre-adverse action notice to the applicant/employee along with a copy of the report, and notices of rights, if not given previously, (2) wait a reasonable period of time (at least 5 days) before taking the adverse action, and (3) after deciding to take the adverse action, provide a notice that contains the FCRA required information, such as the name, address, and telephone number of the CRA that provided the report.

Another lawsuit reminds employers about FCRA disclosure/authorization requirements

A recently filed class action NDC Ca. No. (4:14-cv-00592-DMR, 2-7-14) is a reminder to employers that under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (the “FCRA”) their disclosure and authorization form to the applicant/employee for obtaining a background check must be in a standalone document, and cannot contain confusing or extraneous information. The lawsuit alleges that the defendant employer used an invalid form to obtain consent to conduct background checks, that it relied on an authorization that was included alongside several other consent paragraphs in an online employment application, and that the consent form contained a release of liability related to obtaining the background check. Two published court decisions already ruled that including a liability waiver constitutes a technical violation under the FCRA. (WD Pa. 2013, No. 2:08-cv-01730-MRH, and Dist. Md., 2012, No. 8:11-cv-01823-DKC.)

EEOC files suits against two employers for use of criminal background checks

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”) announced on June 11, 2013 that it filed lawsuits against two large employers accusing them of using criminal background checks to illegally discriminate against African American workers. The EEOC alleged that the companies, by requiring contracted employees and prospective employees to submit to criminal background checks, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s prohibition against race discrimination.

“Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against job applicants and employees on account of their race,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien.  “Since issuing its first written policy guidance in the 1980s regarding the use of arrest and conviction records in employment decisions, the EEOC has advised employers that under certain circumstances, their use of that information to deny employment opportunities could be at odds with Title VII.”  The EEOC issued updated enforcement guidance on employer use of arrest and conviction records in April 2012.

Diploma mill ordered to pay $22.7 million to 30,000 scam victims

On August 31, 2012, Belford High School, Belford University and several of their co-conspirators were ordered to pay $22.7 million to a class of more than 30,000 U.S. residents who were duped into purchasing fake high school diplomas from Belford. The defendants were also ordered to forfeit the websites used to perpetrate the scam, including,,, and

The lawsuit, filed on November 5, 2009, charged that Belford High School is an Internet scam that defrauded students of their money by offering them a supposedly “valid” and “accredited” high school diploma. As affirmed by the judgment, the school is a fake and the diplomas are not valid. The lawsuit also alleged that the two accrediting agencies by which Belford claimed to be accredited – International Accreditation Agency for Online Universities and the Universal Council for Online Education Accreditation – are not legitimate accrediting agencies.

Notably, we came across Belford University in 2010 when a bachelor’s degree from the “school” was listed on an employment application by a candidate for a professional level position with one of our clients. Click here to read the 2010 blog.


More on legal troubles from employer misuse of social media information

Legal experts say that litigation resulting from employer misuse of social media information is likely to rise, at least until more case law is established. And even if the company prevails in such lawsuits, there may be reputational risks as the cases grab national spotlight.

Media sources reported that next week, for example, a National Labor Relations Board judge will rule whether American Medical Response of Connecticut illegally fired a worker after she criticized her boss on
Facebook. In what labor officials and lawyers view as a ground-breaking case involving employees and social media, the NLRB stepped in to argue that workers’ criticisms of their supervisors or companies on social networking sites are generally a protected activity and
that employers are violating the law by punishing workers for such statements. According to media reports, American Medical denied the board’s allegations, stating they are without merit, and that “the
employee was discharged based on multiple, serious complaints about her behavior.” The company added that “the employee was also held accountable for negative personal attacks against a coworker posted publicly on Facebook…”

Media sources reported on another pending case, filed in Georgia against a school district, a former high school teacher is claiming that she was essentially forced to resign over Facebook photos that
showed her drinking alcohol during a European vacation.

And in a case settled in 2009, two workers in New Jersey sued their employer, Hillstone Restaurant Group, after they were fired for violating the company’s core values. According to court documents, their supervisors gained access to postings on a password-protected
Myspace page meant for employees but not managers. The jury found that the employer violated the federal Stored Communications Act and the equivalent New Jersey law, and awarded the employees $3,403 in back pay and $13,600 in punitive damages. Hillstone appealed before the parties reached an undisclosed settlement.

Labor relations pros caution that before taking any adverse action based on social media postings, the employer should consider whether the information could be construed as a complaint or report of inappropriate or unlawful behavior. This includes, but is not limited
to discrimination, harassment, unpaid overtime and other wage violations, or any activities that may trigger an employee’s whistleblower protection.

No background check was done on Michael Jackson’s doctor

Media sources reported that among several wrongful death lawsuits filed by the Jackson family, is a September 2010 action against event production company AEG Live and others alleging that they are responsible for the singer’s death because his “This Is It” tour contract with AEG created a legal duty to keep him healthy.

In its complaint, among other causes, the Jackson family accuses AEG of “negligent hiring” and retention of Dr. Conrad Murray to care for Jackson instead of his usual doctor. Earlier this year, prosecutors charged Murray with involuntary manslaughter, to which he pleaded not guilty. The doctor is accused of administering the drug Propofol to Jackson without the necessary resuscitation equipment or nursing support, and subsequently causing his death. The ‘Negligent Hiring’ cause of action in the complaint filed in Los Angeles County states:

“In undertaking to hire Murray, AEG performed absolutely no diligence in investigating or checking into Murray’s background, specialties, ability, or even whether he was insured, which it had a duty to do. In choosing to hire and employ a physician to treat Jackson, AEG undertook to act, and it needed to do so reasonably. AEG did not act reasonably and breached its duty.”

“During the course of Murray’s treatment, it became clear to AEG that Jackson was not doing well at all. AEG did nothing to terminate Murray and instead negligently retained him as an employee, and in so doing violated its duty of care. AEG insisted that Jackson continue treatment with Murray and receive no treatment from other physicians, a further breach of its duty of supervision.”

Along with negligent hiring, training and supervision, the complaint calls for unspecified damages for breach of contract, fraud, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. And in the most recent case filed November 30, 2010 in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Joe Jackson is also claiming negligent hiring, training and supervision and negligence by the Murray-affiliated clinics and negligence against the pharmacy (and Murray.) A similar suit filed this past June did not include the pharmacy, and was dismissed.

Shortly after Michael Jackson’s death, ABC News reported that Murray was arrested on domestic violence charges in 1994 after an incident with his then-girlfriend. The doctor was tried and acquitted. When a company fails to conduct a background check, the employer can be held legally liable for a worker, independent contractor or volunteer who causes injury to a customer, co-worker or the general public. Whether the individual was acting within the capacity of the job for which he/she was hired does not matter. The legal theory is that even if an employer did not possess direct knowledge of the liability posed by an employee, the company is legally responsible because the employer should have known about the threat presented by the individual. Currently, fewer than 50% of the states uphold the doctrine of negligent hiring, and the criteria for determining negligent hiring differ from state to state.

Supreme court ruling may ban consumer class-action lawsuits

A case that goes before the U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow, AT&T Mobility vs. Concepcion, may potentially ban consumers from filing class-action lawsuits. The basic question that will be decided is whether companies can bar class-actions in the fine print of their take-it-or-leave-it contracts with customers (and employees.)

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California ruled that a class-action ban violates state law and is not preempted by federal law; the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower-court ruling last year.

If a majority of the nine justices vote AT&T’s way, any business that issues a contract to customers — such as for credit cards, cell phones or cable TV — would be able to prevent them from joining class-action lawsuits. Class-actions allow plaintiffs to band together in seeking compensation or redress, thus giving more substance to their claims.

And the banning of class-actions may potentially apply to employment agreements such as union contracts…

Go to Top