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BMW Manufacturing to rehire, pay fired black workers $1.6M

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By Bill Poovey
bpoovey@scbiznews.com
Published Sept. 9, 2015

To settle a 2-year-old racial discrimination lawsuit, BMW Manufacturing Co. agreed to rehire 56 black employees of a contract labor provider and pay them seven years of back wages totaling $1.6 million. A federal judge in Greenville signed the agreement in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suit Tuesday. Jobs will also be offered to up to 90 black applicants who were refused employment based on the Greer plant’s blanket no hiring with a criminal record policy that BMW said today has been changed.

The EEOC suit said BMW’s hiring policy was unlawful and violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it had a disparate impact on black employees and applicants and wasn’t job related or “consistent with business necessity.”

BMW Manufacturing Co. has agreed to rehire 56 black employees of a contract labor provider and pay them seven years of back wages totaling $1.6 million. (File photo)

BMW Manufacturing Co. has agreed to rehire 56 black employees of a contract labor provider and pay them seven years of back wages totaling $1.6 million. (File photo)

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BMW contends there was no Civil Rights Act violation and said in a statement today that the settlement “affirms BMW’s right to use criminal background checks in hiring the workforce at the BMW plant in South Carolina.” BMW agreed to provide training for employees who hire applicants.

The settlement says BMW and EEOC “bear their own attorneys’ fees and costs” and that BMW “expressly denies liability and the resolution of this lawsuit shall not constitute any admission of wrongdoing by BMW. By entering into this decree, the EEOC is not disavowing the allegations of its complaint in this action.”

The settlement says BMW and its personnel contractor MAU Workforce Solutions can consider a criminal conviction in making a hiring decision but it requires that BMW designate an employment monitor who will be empowered to reverse decisions on applicants while also maintaining records.

Lynette Barnes, regional attorney at the EEOC’s Charlotte office, said in a statement that the agency is “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," Barnes said.

The agreement requires that the fired 56 employees and up to 90 applicants of MAU who were denied jobs be given priority status over other applicants. Jobs offered by MAU to fired employees must match the “rate of pay as the highest paid person performing the same or similar job at the facility at the time the job offer is made” without any loss of seniority or benefits since 2008, according to the agreement.

The BMW statement said the use of criminal background checks is to “ensure the safety and well-being of all who work at the BMW plant site.”

The plant is “in a United States Foreign Trade Zone under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” the statement said. “BMW is a member of the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism and therefore has a business necessity to require criminal background checks not only for its employees, but also the employees of vendors, temporary agencies and contractors who have access to the plant site.”

The statement said the “company’s policy has since been revised” but spokesmen for the plant and BMW North America did not return telephone messages seeking comment about the change. MAU referred questions to BMW.

The EEOC updated its rules on arrest and conviction records in 2012, and the EEOC statement said the BMW lawsuit was one of the first since that change.

In late July, Senior U.S. District Judge Henry M. Herlong Jr. denied BMW’s motion for summary judgment.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson in 2013 joined attorneys general from other states in taking BMW’s side in the court fight. The attorneys general described the change as a “misguided and a quintessential example of gross federal overreach.”

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