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Johnson v. Locke

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Johnson v. Locke is a lawsuit that intends to stop the government from using racially-biased arrest records as a strike against applicants for temporary positions with the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010.


The Amended Complaint filed August 5, 2010.


The US Bureau of the Census plans on hiring over a million temporary employees this year to conduct census surveys and serve in clerical positions. The Bureau runs the names of all applicants through the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services Division’s Name Index which contains a “criminal history record” for anyone who has ever been arrested. If an applicant’s name appears, Census informs the applicant and gives them the opportunity to “to provide official court documentation on any arrest(s) that affect hiring eligibility” with a 30-day deadline.

However, half of the FBI records have no information on final outcome of the arrest – whether it actually led to a prosecution or conviction. Even those with expunged records may still have their names in the FBI’s database. Putting the onus on the applicant to produce these records – especially those that may be expunged or destroyed – is a time-consuming, arduous task, especially within the short timeframe (which also violates federal policy). While an arrest does not necessarily preclude an otherwise eligible applicant from being hired, in practice, it appears that the Census Bureau will use a single arrest, regardless of the underlying circumstances, to disqualify an applicant.  In addition, the inquiry into arrest history, without regard for the age of the arrest, underlying circumstances, or disposition, deters or excludes many of the best qualified applicants with arrest records that are totally irrelevant (for example, minor misdemeanors that are decades old, and which could not reasonably be job-related), because these are precisely the kind of records that are the most difficult to find.

Such a strict use of arrest records as an employment screening criteria has meant that people of color – particularly, Blacks and Latinos - are disproportionately denied employment because they constitute a disproportionate share of criminal arrests nationwide. Because of the enormous scope of hiring for the 2010 Census, the discriminatory impact of this is profound. It does not make much sense that the Census Bureau expresses a desire to reach communities at risk of being undercounted – particularly low-income people of color and immigrants – by hiring within those communities, yet it has erected an unnecessary and discriminatory obstacle to achieving that very goal.

Thus, Plaintiffs bring this class action suit as a disparate impact challenge pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  Under the disparate impact doctrine (which does not require a showing of intentional discrimination), the Census Bureau has violated Title VII by using an employment screening device that has a racially disproportionate effect on African American, Latino, and Native American applicants.   Census’ discriminatory practice is not justified by business necessity, and its legitimate interests can be achieved through less discriminatory means.

Have you or anyone you know been denied a temporary Census position or deterred from completing your job application because of its arrest screen?

Please visit  to share your story and find out if you can participate in the action.


The Complaint was filed April 13, 2010.

The Amended Complaint filed August 5, 2010.