Oakland, Calif. -- A class action lawsuit was filed against First Transit, Inc., one of the nation’s largest bus companies, for illegal discrimination against African-American and Latino employees and job applicants.
The lead plaintiff, Adrienne Hudson, is an African-American woman who was fired in 2009 by First Transit in Oakland after just two days on the job. The legal action is supported by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the nation’s largest union of mass transit workers, and the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a non-profit organization advocating for employee rights.
At issue is a company-wide policy implemented by First Transit – a subsidiary of British conglomerate FirstGroup, plc, which also owns First Student, the nation’s largest school bus company, and Greyhound, the nation’s largest provider of intercity bus transportation.
First Transit refuses employment to any job applicant who has a past felony conviction or who has been sentenced to any term of incarceration, no matter how brief. The “no-hire” policy is in force regardless of the nature and gravity of the offense, the amount of time passed since the conviction, or whether the offense has any relationship to the job in question.
According to Hudson’s complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the policy has a “disparate impact” on African-American and Latino job seekers, because they are arrested and convicted at far greater rates than their white counterparts.
“More than 13,000 ATU members at seventy-five locations in the U.S. and Canada work for First Transit or for another company owned by FirstGroup,” said ATU International President Ron Heintzman. “If an African-American or Latino worker applies for a job at one of those properties, we expect them to be treated fairly – to have an equal shot at the job, just like anyone else.”
First Transit has contracts to provide bus service in major metropolitan areas including Denver, Phoenix, Portland and Vancouver, as well as dozens of smaller contracts in the U.S. and Canada to provide bus, paratransit, university and airport transportation services.
One of Hudson’s attorneys, Kalman Resnick of the Chicago law firm Hughes Socol, Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd. added, “When an employer puts in barriers that have nothing to do with the job, that's unfair. And when those barriers affect African-Americans and Latinos more than anyone else, it's more than unfair – it's illegal.” Hudson is also represented by NELP attorneys and the Oakland law firm of Goldstein, Demchak, Baller, Borgen & Dardarian.
Policy guidelines of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), cited in the class action complaint filed today, support the claim of discriminatory practices at First Transit. According to the EEOC:
[A]n employer’s policy or practice of excluding individuals from employment on the basis of their conviction records has an adverse impact on [African Americansand Latinos]... such a policy or practice is unlawful under Title VII [of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964] in the absence of a justifying business necessity.”
In 2009, Ms. Hudson, an experienced and dedicated bus driver skilled at assisting elderly and infirm riders, voluntarily left her employment at a different bus company to join First Transit’s Oakland transportation facility as a paratransit driver. Despite her strong work record and experience driving paratransit buses, Hudson was fired after just two days on the job due to a seven-year-old felony welfare fraud conviction, which had been expunged from her record by the state of California.
“This is a person who was convicted many years ago for an offense that is completely unrelated to driving a bus,” says ATU International Secretary Treasurer Oscar Owens. “She did everything she was asked to do. She served her sentence, she completed her probation, and her conviction was expunged. Seven years later, she's got a good-paying job, she's supporting her family – and you're going to kick her out on the street and bar her from employment? It doesn't make any sense; we can't let employers get away with that kind of discriminatory behavior.”
Ms. Hudson has since found employment at another bus company. “Adrienne has a good work record, and it's very clear that her past issues have nothing whatsoever to do with her ability to be a safe and responsible transit operator,” said Owens. “She was harmed by First Transit when they fired her after two days on the job, and the evidence will show that First Transit is also discriminating against other African-Americans and Latino employees and job applicants.”
“Members of our union believe very strongly in equal opportunity, so we're going to stand together and fight discrimination wherever we find it,” said ATU President Heintzman.
The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, has more than 190,000 members in 264 local unions in 44 states and nine Canadian provinces. ATU members include bus drivers, light rail operators, maintenance and clerical personnel and other transit and municipal employees. The union’s website is www.ATU.org
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) is a non-profit organization that promotes policies and programs that create good jobs, strengthen upward mobility, enforce hard-won worker rights, and help unemployed workers regain their economic footing through improved benefits and services.