SEPTA has struck a deal to lift a “blanket ban” barring qualified applicants from employment at the authority because of past drug convictions as part of a proposed $3.6 million class-action settlement reached in a years-long discrimination case, according to court records.
Frank Long, Joseph Shipley, and Michael White, applicants who were rejected for employment at SEPTA, challenged the alleged policy as well as a “failure” to provide candidates with timely copies of background checks — violations of state and federal law. The case was brought forward in 2016 on behalf of those who sought work at the authority but were turned away “based on old, nonviolent, and irrelevant drug offenses,” according to the motion for preliminary approval of the settlement filed this month in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
In addition to financial compensation, the proposed settlement “mandates that SEPTA will not institute (or reinstitute) an absolute bar to employment for any felony or misdemeanor conviction, unless required by law.” SEPTA is also supposed to have a consultant to advise in hiring practices and establish priority hiring for those discriminated against based on their criminal record.
SEPTA did not respond to multiple interview requests.
“SEPTA is happy to have reached a resolution to the case and looks forward to the court’s consideration of the proposed class settlement,” the authority said in a statement.
The settlement stems from a 2016 complaint filed by Long, a 56-year-old Philadelphia man who interviewed to become a SEPTA bus driver in 2014. Long, who had a CDL license and prior bus driving experience, was offered the position verbally but needed to undergo a background check, according to court documents.
Long, whose criminal record includes drug convictions from 1997, was later informed that the offer had been revoked.
“Mr. Long’s criminal history was not relevant to the bus operator position for which he applied for reasons including the nature of the crime, the age of the conviction, and the years Mr. Long has been in the general population without any further convictions,” the 2016 complaint states.
SEPTA rescinding the ban is a “significant policy change” that will help “hundreds of future applicants who would have otherwise been categorically denied a job at SEPTA based on their criminal history record,” the proposal filed by the plaintiffs’ counsel on Jan. 15 reads.
An estimated 1,500 people could benefit from the settlement, according to the filing. SEPTA has about 9,300 employees.
The agreement states that SEPTA held an alleged “blanket ban” on hiring candidates with drug convictions for a variety of positions, including bus drivers, rail engineers, and mechanics, until August 2018.
SEPTA did not respond to questions on how long such a policy existed, or whether it ended in 2018.
Counsel representing the plaintiffs, which included attorneys from Outten & Golden, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Public Interest Law Center, and Willig, Williams & Davidson, declined an interview request.
“The plaintiffs are happy to have reached a resolution to the case and look forward to the court’s consideration of the proposed class settlement,” said Ryan Hancock, an attorney at the Philadelphia-based firm Willig, Williams & Davidson, in a statement.
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