The nonprofit organization Public Justice honored a team led by Outten & Golden LLP with the national 2017 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award for achieving the landmark settlement in Gonzalez v. Pritzker.
Adam Klein and Ossai Miazad from Outten & Golden LLP, along with several co-counsel, were recognized by Public Justice for winning an unprecedented national class action settlement that requires the U.S. Census Bureau to overhaul its hiring practices to ensure that it lawfully determines whether the criminal history of applicants actually justifies their rejection from entry-level, temporary jobs.
The class action lawsuit also gives members of the class the option to receive notification of job openings in the 2020 census, and includes $5 million for a program through Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law that helps people with criminal records maximize their employment prospects.
During six years of hard-fought litigation, the Outten & Golden-led legal team asserted that the Census Bureau's flawed hiring procedures used during the 2010 decennial census violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because of its substantial adverse impact on African Americans and Latinos who were arrested at much higher rates than whites, often for the same crimes, such as minor drug possession and use. The lawsuit alleged that more than 450,000 African American and Latino job seekers with criminal records were improperly rejected by the Census Bureau's flawed screening process.
Adam T. Klein, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs and the co-head of the class action practice group at Outten & Golden LLP, said, "Outten & Golden, along with our co-counsel in the case, are grateful to be honored by Public Justice. This award is a celebration of the rule of law. This landmark settlement empowered our clients to obtain justice. The settlement commits the federal government, the nation's largest employer, to a hiring process for one of its largest and most important operations – the decennial census – that does not unfairly and arbitrarily deny access to jobs to millions of Americans who have had some interaction with the criminal justice system."
Ossai Miazad, attorney for the plaintiffs and co-head of the Outten & Golden LLP discrimination and retaliation practice group, said, "We remain hopeful that this settlement will mean that both private companies and government agencies will develop new ways to weigh employers' need to ensure that applicants with criminal records will have a fair chance when they seek employment opportunities, both to their benefit, the benefit of their communities, and to the general public as employment of those with past records has been shown to greatly reduce recidivism."
Out of about 3.8 million applicants for 2010 census work, more than one-quarter of them were essentially turned away through a background check process demanding documentation on arrest records, which offer no proof of guilt and are often inaccurate or incomplete. Most hard hit by the process were African Americans and Hispanics, who are arrested at a rate that is two to three times their proportion of the general population. In fact, because of the racial disparities in arrest and conviction rates in this country, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has warned employers about the possible discriminatory effects of using criminal records to make employment decisions.
The plaintiffs' team in the case also includes Lewis M. Steel, Deirdre A. Aaron, Sally J. Abrahamson, and Christopher McNerney, of Outten & Golden LLP; Sharon Dietrich of Community Legal Services, Inc., in Philadelphia; Judith M. Whiting of Community Service Society of New York; Jackson Chin of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Inc., of New York; Jon Greenbaum and Dariely Rodriguez of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of Washington, D.C.; Darius Charney of the Center for Constitutional Rights of New York; Michael T. Kirkpatrick and Julie A. Murray of Public Citizen Litigation Group, of Washington, D.C.; and Robert T. Coulter of the Indian Law Resource Center, of Helena, Montana.