Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today filed a legal action challenging unlawful hiring guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that limit the ability of employers–including the State of Texas and its agencies–from categorically excluding convicted felons from employment.
Under Texas law, certain state agencies are prohibited from employing convicted felons and have enacted policies that require criminal background checks to ensure convicted felons do not hold positions of public trust. The hiring guidelines the EEOC adopted in 2012, however, prohibit Texas and its agencies from categorically excluding convicted felons for certain jobs.
As the State’s legal action explains: “If state agencies choose to comply with the EEOC’s interpretation, they not only violate state law, but also must . . . begin evaluating and hiring felons to serve in law enforcement, teach in local elementary schools, nurse veterans and the disabled, counsel juvenile detainees, and coach little league.”
“Once again, the Obama Administration is overreaching its legal authority by trying to impose hiring rules on states that violate state sovereignty and–in this instance–endanger public safety,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Texas has an obligation to enforce its absolute ban on hiring convicted felons for certain jobs such as state troopers, school teachers and jailers.”
The EEOC’s hiring guidelines also warn that the Commission will investigate and prosecute employers like Texas who use felony convictions as an absolute bar to employment. Finally, the EEOC’s guidelines encourage disqualified applicants to file discrimination claims for perceived violations of the guidelines.
According to the State’s legal action, the EEOC’s hiring guidelines are unlawful because they overstep the Commission’s statutory authority and improperly bully the State and its agencies into jeopardizing the safety of Texans. The damage inflicted by the EEOC’s unlawful guidance extends beyond the State as an employer and directly affects Texas businesses. State and federal statutes and rules require many industries and government entities to conduct background checks and to consider particular kinds of convictions in different ways.
Because the EEOC lacked statutory authority to adopt the hiring guidelines, the Office of the Attorney General challenged the Commission’s unlawful directive and asked the federal court for the following relief:
• a declaratory judgment that the State of Texas and its agencies are entitled to maintain and enforce state laws and policies that absolutely bar convicted felons–or a certain category of convicted felons–from government employment;
• a declaration that the EEOC cannot enforce its guidelines against the State of Texas–and an injunction that bars the EEOC from issuing right-to-sue letters to persons seeking to pursue this type of discrimination charge against the State of Texas or any of its agencies; and
• a judgment holding unlawful and setting aside the EEOC’s hiring guidelines.