Sallie Mae Accused of Race Bias in Worker Criminal Record Checks

July 9, 2020, 3:29 PM

Sallie Mae Bank’s criminal history background check policy for employees has a discriminatory impact on Black job applicants and employees that isn’t justified by the nature of the work sought or business necessity, a new proposed class action filed in Delaware federal court alleges.

Willie Gilder brought the lawsuit on behalf of himself and all Black individuals who were offered jobs or hired by Sallie Mae but who then had their offers rescinded or were fired based on the background checks the bank does as part of its hiring process.

The exact size of the proposed class is unknown but numerous enough to warrant certification under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Gilder says in a complaint filed Wednesday with the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.

Gilder says he was the victim of the background check policy’s adverse affects on Black workers and job seekers when he sought, was interviewed for, and received a conditional offer of employment for a collector I position in Sallie Mae’s APG private credit department in the fall of 2017.

He was given an anticipated start date of Nov. 20, 2017, “contingent upon passing a background check,” according to the complaint. But Gilder received a letter from the bank Nov. 9, 2017, that listed the results of his criminal background check and informed him the report could affect his employment status, the lawsuit says.

Gilder responded by supplying evidence that his arrest for possession of a controlled substance never resulted in a conviction for dealing cocaine and that his arrest record had been expunged. But he later learned from Sallie Mae’s position statement in a Delaware Department of Labor proceeding that his job offer was pulled because of an “outdated manslaughter conviction,” he says.

That conviction occurred roughly 25 years earlier and didn’t involve “dishonesty, breach of trust, or money laundering.” It therefore shouldn’t have disqualified him for his job under the Federal Deposit Insurance Act because it didn’t have any bearing on his ability to successfully perform as a collector I, Gilder says.

Cause of Action: Disparate impact race discrimination under Title VII.

Relief: Order declaring Sallie Mae Bank’s background check policy and practices unlawful under Title VII; all available damages for Gilder and the class, including lost wages, salary, and employment benefits, front pay, and liquidated damages; attorneys’ fees and costs; pre- and post-judgment interest.

Response: Sallie Mae didn’t immediately respond Thursday to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment.

Attorneys: Allen & Associates represent Gilder and the proposed class.

The case is Gilder v. Sallie Mae Bank, D. Del., No. 1:20-cv-00924, class complaint filed 7/8/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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