Census Worker Class Action Lawsuit

Case Introduction

Over the past two years, the United States Census Bureau (“Census”) has engaged in the temporary hiring of over one million temporary workers to conduct the 2010 census in a manner which has discriminated against over one hundred thousand African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans.  Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit on April 13, 2010 to challenge this discriminatory practice, and amended their Complaint on August 5, 2010. 

All applicants for the 2010 Census with an arrest record for any offense at any point in their lives – no matter how trivial or disconnected from the requirements of the job – face an arbitrary barrier to employment.  Census requires that within 30 days these particular applicants must produce the “official” court records of the disposition of their arrests to remain eligible for employment.  Because of the difficulty, and often impossibility, of obtaining such proof, many people who have never been prosecuted or convicted of a crime are deterred or excluded outright from working for Census.  Census’ screening procedure also results in the exclusion of many people with old and minor convictions for non-criminal offenses, misdemeanors, and other crimes that do not involve violence or dishonesty, which are irrelevant according to Census’ own policy for work in the field or at a desk job.  

Because the arrest and conviction rates of African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans far exceed those of whites nationwide, Census’ use of an arbitrary pre-employment screen has the result of discriminating on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, and national origin.  By importing the discriminatory bias of the criminal justice system into its hiring practice, Census is thereby violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.   
Since filing suit in April of 2010, we have learned some devastating facts:

  • Near the outset of this hiring program, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) informed Census officials that the method of screening out applicants could well have a racially discriminatory impact in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, but Census failed to revise its screening procedures to rectify the problem.
  • The “official court documentation” requirement has caused 93% of applicants with a record of almost any arrest – roughly 700,000 people –to be excluded from consideration for Census jobs.  This single device operates virtually as a “no arrest or conviction history allowed” policy.
  • Census’ criminal background screening process is not new.  Plaintiffs have learned that when Census hired temporary workers for the 2000 decennial census, it used the same process, with the same massive exclusionary effect.  Following the 2000 census, and again this year, Census has failed to analyze the reasons for this exclusion and the racial and ethnic impact of its practices.

These revelations show that Census’ policy is not just a function of bureaucratic ineptitude, but that it is designed to discriminate.  Plaintiffs’ amended complaint includes this new information, as well as the addition of 5 new named plaintiffs from across the country.

The Plaintiffs in this case — all Census applicants — are deeply committed to Census’ goal of reaching communities at risk of being undercounted, particularly low-income people of color and immigrants.  They seek simple changes to Census’ hiring process which will not only reduce its discriminatory practices, but will promote the public interest by expanding Census’ hiring base in historically under-counted communities, thereby achieving the Constitutional goal of counting all who live in the United States.