A 20-minute demonstration with 200 people outside Target's Minneapolis headquarters Wednesday has prompted HR officials to consider meeting with the advocacy group TakeAction Minnesota regarding its hiring practices. TakeAction officials said a meeting is set for May 29th but Target officials declined to comment about a meeting date.
TakeAction officials want Target to change its hiring practices to allow former convicts to be considered for and hired for certain jobs.
TakeAction alleges that Target's hiring policy refuses to consider any job candidate with a criminal record and that that disproportionately affects people of color.
During Wednesday’s rally, TakeAction had two women speak who had applied for jobs at Target but were turned down. One was convicted of making a verbal threat against a relative nearly a decade ago. Another served time for possessing methamphetamines, but since had a developed a solid career as a social worker. Both women were denied employment at Target because of their criminal record, said TakeAction spokeswoman Greta Bergstrom.
Target officials disagreed. In a statement, Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said: "The existence of a criminal record does not disqualify a candidate for employment at Target, unless it indicates an unreasonable risk to the safety and welfare of our guests, our team members or our property."
Snyder added that "Target is committed to following all federal, state and local laws. Target's background check process is carefully designed to ensure that we provide a safe and secure working and shopping experience for our team members and guests while treating all candidates fairly."
Julie Schmid, spokeswoman for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Minneapolis, said that the EEOC recently issued new guidelines to help employers figure out how to properly screen job candidates with criminal records without violating Title VII of the law. Schmid said that employers must consider the age of the victim when the crime occurred; their age now; the relevance of the crime to the job being offered; the candidate's employment record, and any rehab, education and training done since the crime originally occurred.
Such additional guidelines should help employers screen candidates while also providing a means for former convicts to still earn a living, she said.
Schmid declined to comment specifically on the Target and TakeAction dispute. But she added: "I think it's important for both parties to become familiar with our new guidelines on background check policies. Beyond that, it's a little too early for us to say anything."
Employer ''retaliation'' became the leading category of complaints filed by workers in 2010, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Of the nearly 100,000 complaints filed with the agency last year, more than 36,000 involved employers retaliating against workers who had spoken up about some perceived wrong at their company, Laurie Vasichek, an EEOC senior trial attorney, told those attending this week's annual Fredrikson & Byron employment and labor law seminar in Minneapolis.
The unusually high volume of retaliation gripes outpaced race discrimination charges, which ranked as the top EEOC complaint for 45 years.
Vasichek had more surprising news: Total EEOC complaints filed this year jumped 8 percent, to about 108,000 nationwide for the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
"That was the highest ever," she said. "We have been seeing a steady and fairly sharp increase in the number of charges that are being filed with the EEOC."
The fastest growth this year was seen in discrimination charges involving religion, disability and age.
Why the big jump in retaliation allegations?
Vasichek said that recent Supreme Court decisions made the burden of proof for retaliation claims less stringent.
"In my estimation, it is not as difficult to prove retaliation as it is some other types of discrimination," Vasichek said, adding that the case volumes are reflecting that.
As for the 2011 spike in overall complaints, she noted that some economists claim there could be a connection to the weak economy. But there do not appear to have been similar escalations in complaints during prior economic downturns.
In a bit of good news, sexual harassment cases in the workplace appear to be on the decline. In 1997, there were 80,000 total sex discrimination complaints. By fiscal 2011, the number had dropped about 29,000.
EEOC officials credited employers for clearly stated policies and a decades-long education campaign that hammered home the concept that sexual harassment is a fireable offense.
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