German automaker BMW has agreed to pay $1.6 million in damages as settlement for a racial discrimination lawsuit that had been filed against the company, The Associated Press reports.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also announced that the dozens of African-American employees who were discriminated against because of criminal background checks would be given job opportunities at the company's plant in Greer, S.C. where the lawsuit originated.
According to the AP:
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.
Of the 88 workers who were fired as a result of the new background checks, 70 were African-American, some of whom had been with the company for more than a decade.
In a statement, the EEOC said that BMW has volunteered to change its guidelines following the suit. As a result, African-American applicants who were turned down for jobs because of the old guidelines would also be allowed to reapply for a position.
The EEOC's general counsel, P. David Lopez, said that this ruling does not mean a company can't use criminal history as a factor when making hiring decisions, but:
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."
BMW spokesman Max Metcalf maintains that the company did not violate the Civil Rights Act and says that they will use criminal background checks going forward in order to maintain the safety of all its employees.
The settlement comes after a different dark moment in BMW's past: In 2011, the company finally acknowledged it had used and profited by using slave labor in its plants during WWII and the Holocaust.
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