The federal government can't enforce in Texas a rule limiting the use of criminal background checks in hiring, a federal judge in Lubbock ruled Thursday.
As part of a years-long legal quest to roll back Obama-era regulations, Texas filed suit in 2013 against the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over a policy aimed at making it easier for convicted criminals to find work. In 2012, the commission told employers to use criminal background checks during job screenings only when the checks were job-related or necessary for the business. The commission did not entirely bar the use of the background checks.
Still, some employers argued that this guidance unduly restricted their ability to exclude certain candidates in hiring practices. And Texas — where it's against the law to hire convicted felons at certain state agencies — objected that the 2012 guidance infringed on the state’s ability to uphold its laws.
“The State of Texas and its constituent agencies have the sovereign right to impose categorical bans on the hiring of criminals, and the EEOC has no authority to say otherwise,” Texas argued in its 2013 complaint.
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Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the court’s ruling in a release Thursday afternoon, thanking the court for protecting Texas against what he called “unlawful” hiring guidelines.
Still, Thursday's ruling did not give Texas everything it wanted. Texas in 2013 handed the court three major asks: to declare that the state had a right to absolutely bar convicted felons from certain jobs, to prevent the EEOC from enforcing the new guidance and to prevent the EEOC from issuing “right-to-sue” letters that empower job applicants to allege illegal discrimination from prospective employers.
The major win for Texas is that the EEOC may not enforce the 2012 guidance in the state. But Texas lost on the other two counts. The EEOC may still issue right-to-sue letters in Texas cases, and — more significantly — the court refused to affirm Texas’ right to categorically exclude felons from certain jobs.
“A categorical denial of employment opportunities to all job applicants convicted of a prior felony paints with too broad a brush and denies meaningful opportunities of employment to many who could benefit greatly from such employment,” U.S. District Judge Sam Cummings ruled.
The federal government could choose to appeal the ruling — though it’s unclear whether, under a new presidential administration, a court challenge is likely.
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