South Carolina’s BMW Plant Settles Employment Discrimination Suit

What can happen to a business engaging in discriminatory hiring and employment practices?

As a South Carolina small business, it is vital for your organization to have a keen understanding of federal and state anti-discrimination laws – as the penalties for violating these mandates are steep. While most well-meaning businesses do not engage in intentional discriminatory misconduct, office policies or protocols that have even the effect of possible discrimination could amount to a violation. By having knowledge of the law, you have a powerful means to protect you business.

BMW plant settles discrimination suit

By way of example, South Carolina’s iconic Spartanburg BMW plant recently settled a two-year old racial discrimination lawsuit for $1.6 million. The case involved nearly 70 former plant applicants, all of whom claimed to have been unfairly discriminated against by the plant’s criminal background check policies. More specifically, the BMW plant had implemented a policy requiring an in-depth criminal background check of any applicant for a job, and also implemented a rule prohibiting the hiring of any applicant with any criminal history within the past seven years.

To make matters worse, the plant further amended its guidelines in 2012 to prohibit the employment of any worker with any criminal history from any year – and promptly fired 88 current employees, some of whom had worked at the plant for over ten years. Of the 88 employees terminated for criminal background issues, 70 were African American – prompting an immediate discrimination lawsuit by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

As this story shows, an employment policy need not be blatantly discriminatory to violate the law, so long as the policy has an adverse impact.  In addition to the seven-figure settlement offered by the company, BMW agreed to rehire all employees who were terminated as a result of the policy change. In a statement by the regional EEOC agent, “[w]e are pleased with BMW’s agreement to resolve this disputed matter by providing both monetary relief and employment opportunities to the logistic workers who lost their jobs at the facility….We commend BMW for re-evaluating its criminal conviction records guidelines that resulted in the discharge of these workers.”

If you would like compliance advice for your South Carolina business, you should consult with a qualified employment and labor law attorney.