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EEOC Suit Impacts More Than Just Sheetz

All convenience retailers should review their hiring practices.
A paper job application with eye glasses,  pen and a social security card

I'm surprised there hasn't been more uproar from the convenience store industry about the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) lawsuit accusing Sheetz Inc. of racially discriminatory hiring practices for running background checks for criminal convictions on all job applicants and then allegedly denying them employment based on those records.

As reported in April on, the federal agency claims that the convenience store operator has maintained a longstanding practice of screening all job applicants for records of criminal conviction and then denying them employment based on those records. This disproportionately screened out Black, Native American/Alaska Native and multiracial applicants, which violated provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that prohibit disparate impact discrimination, the lawsuit states.

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I'm not a lawyer, and I don't know the specific details of the EEOC's suit, but it seems to me that there are so many things questionable about this action. Sheetz has been one of the more progressive companies in the c-store industry when it comes to diversity and inclusion. An integral part of the company's corporate strategy is its IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility) Initiative.

The EEOC lawsuit doesn't allege that Sheetz was motivated by race when making hiring decisions. Yet, the federal agency claims that doing criminal background checks discriminates against minorities because Black men's imprisonment rate is nearly seven times higher than White men and almost three times higher than Hispanic men. The EEOC calls this "disparate impact" and uses this statistical disparity to justify designating criminal offenders as a "protected class" under federal civil rights law.

Sheetz, like many other forward-thinking companies, has Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to support Black, female, LGBTQIA+ and Latinx employees. If the EEOC has its way, the company will have to start an ERG for ex-cons.

I joke about the ERG, but it's no joke if this EEOC lawsuit is successful, or if the federal agency starts going after other retailers that perform criminal background checks on prospective employees. At a time when finding reliable workers is a major problem for c-store retailers, actions like this from the federal government only make the problem worse.

Sheetz, in a statement, said that it has attempted to work with the EEOC for nearly eight years to find common ground and resolve this dispute. "We will address the claims in court when the time comes," the company told Convenience Store News.

I don't think employers should automatically disqualify any job candidate with a criminal history. However, the employer should be able to consider how appropriate that person's record may be for the specific responsibilities of the job being filled. Hiring decisions should always be on a case-by-case basis. It's probably a good time for other companies in the industry to review their own hiring practices to ensure they meet EEOC guidelines.

In 2019, a federal appeals court sided with the state of Texas when it challenged EEOC guidance against using criminal background checks in hiring decisions. Hopefully, the Sheetz case will have a similar outcome.

About the Author

Don Longo

Don Longo is Editorial Director Emeritus of Convenience Store News. He joined the brand in 2005. With the highest recognition of any c-store industry media journalist, Don has given presentations to business groups throughout the U.S., Europe and South America, appeared as a guest on Fox Business News and National Public Radio, and is a highly sought source for major consumer and business news.

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