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Judge approves settlement in landmark criminal records case

 A federal court in New York approved a $15 million settlement in a case involving 400,000 African Americans and Latinos who were unable to get jobs as census takers for the 2010 census due to alleged problems with the U.S. Census Bureau's procedures involving background checks.

People with arrest records, whether they were convicted of minor crimes or were arrested but not convicted, faced many bureaucratic hurdles when they applied for the jobs and were often turned away from what amounted to entry-level positions at the worst point of the recession. A disproportionate number of them were African Americans and Latinos.

The $15 million settlement, paid by the Department of Commerce,  includes a $5 million fund that will help African Americans and Latinos who were rejected for census jobs because of criminal records clear up their records.

"This settlement comes at a critical time when the Census Bureau is planning for the 2020 census and developing the criteria for hiring hundreds of thousands of temporary workers," said Adam Klein, lead plaintiff's attorney. "Instead of having its own staff set the criteria, under this settlement, outside professionals will develop the criteria, which we anticipate will open up many thousands of jobs to applicants with records."

One of the original lead plaintiffs in the case, Evelyn Houser, of Philadelphia, died in September. She had been arrested for trying to cash a check she found in a dumpster in 1981, when she was a 39-year-old mother of four who had run out of money and food stamps. She was not convicted but placed in an alternate rehabilitation program. In 1990, the Census Bureau hired her for a census-taking job, but in 2010, she was turned away. "It was a slap in the face," she said in 2010 when the federal case was filed.