Civil rights lawyer: Amazon’s criminal background checks discriminate against minorities

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BOSTON – Civil rights lawyers are threatening to sue online retail giant for discrimination, citing Amazon’s policy of requiring criminal background checks on its delivery drivers. Boston-area lawyers representing drivers fired by delivery contractors after background checks revealed criminal records claim the policy unfairly targets blacks and Latinos.

Amazon changed its policy on background checks in August, when it began requiring checks that would flag drivers with a criminal history. Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman says the checks are “focused on job-related criminal and motor vehicle convictions and [do not] consider race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or other protected characteristics.”

But Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, posits that flagging workers with criminal records may run afoul of civil rights laws that prohibit policies with a disproportionate negative impact on minorities.

Espinoza-Madrigal represents several area workers who were fired as a result of the new policy. Since the policy’s enactment two months ago, Sharon-based Miller’s Express, an Amazon delivery contractor, has fired over 30 employees with criminal records. After learning that Amazon was responsible for the policy, Espinoza-Madrigal sent a letter to the online retailer requesting more details on the policy as well as an in-person meeting with company executives.

“Litigation is certainly on the table” Espinoza-Madrigal stated, citing the policy’s “highly disturbing and disproportionate impact on…peoples of color.” However, he says he hopes Amazon will address the group’s concerns without a lawsuit.

Cheeseman responded by saying, “Safety and customer trust are our top priorities, which is why we have always required delivery service providers to conduct comprehensive background checks for their employee drivers.”