Passengers board a Green Line train at the Prince George's Plaza Metro station in Hyattsville in September. Metro recently released a safety report that shows injuries among riders and employees slightly increased last year. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Passengers board a Green Line train at the Prince George's Plaza Metro station in Hyattsville in September. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

A group of African-American employees and job applicants who claimed they were fired from or denied positions with Metro as a result of a racially discriminatory and overly broad criminal-background check policy announced Thursday it has reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit against the transit agency.

Though Metro did not admit liability in the settlement, it agreed to pay $6.5 million to the complainants and to maintain its new policy for at least one year, said the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), one of the groups that filed the suit on the plaintiffs’ behalf.

“Today’s settlement is a clear victory for applicants whose job prospects were impacted by actions they took many years before,” said Rachel Kleinman, senior counsel for LDF. “[Metro’s] background check policy was out of step with other jurisdictions and limited opportunities for qualified African-American employees.”

Metro’s new policy reduces the criminal offenses that result in automatic disqualification; reduces the list of offenses that result in a presumptive disqualification; and provides applicants who are presumptively disqualified with the opportunity to receive an individual assessment of their overall records.

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer also joined in the lawsuit on behalf of nine plaintiffs against Metro and three of its contractors.

By granting class certification to the case in April, the court allowed the plaintiffs’ claims that Metro’s former policy unfairly and disproportionately limited opportunities for qualified African-American employees to move forward on behalf of all affected job applicants.

Metro’s old background-check policy, which dated back to 2011, had resulted in the disqualification of numerous qualified applicants — including a disproportionate number of blacks — with a wide range of criminal convictions, without consideration of how long ago the conviction occurred or its relevance to the position.

Many people with convictions on their records, including for nonviolent drug offenses, faced lifetime disqualification under the policy.

Earlier this year, Metro adopted the current policy that provides for individualized assessments of job applicants who have criminal records.

John A. Freedman, partner at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, said Metro’s updated policy “provides a valuable example for other employers to follow.”

“It represents the promise that individuals seeking employment can and should be assessed on their merits and character, and not automatically disqualified for conduct for which they have already paid their debt to society,” Freedman said.

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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