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Arizona lawsuit points out pitfalls of background checking data

Dec 03, 2012 Quinn Thomas

A lawsuit filed recently in the United States District Court in Phoenix points out the problems of identifying the right person in background checks that increasingly rely on online databases that include criminal records. The Arizona Republic reported that local resident Darlene Martinez's job offer from a Phoenix hospital was rescinded when a background screening showed she had a criminal record. Later, it turned out the data applied to Darlene Foster Ramirez, who had been convicted on a drug charge in 2009. Martinez claims that Universal Background Screening, the company she is suing for the mistake, did not notify her in writing about the information it reported to the hospital or - once she complained - re-investigate to make sure it had the right information. The company has denied it did anything wrong. "We take a significant amount of cost and effort to make sure that mistakes don’t happen," Kevin Olson, Universal's chairman and CEO, told the newspaper. "It really is what we are known for." Conflicting data
Regardless of who wins, the Arizona case has shown the pitfalls of information overload in an era when virtually all companies are protecting themselves against liability by having background checks done on prospective hires. The Society for Human Resources Management has found that 68 percent of employers conduct criminal background checks on job candidates in addition to verifying job history and other qualifications. But in its Staffing Research report, it acknowledged the difficulty of obtaining accurate information on criminal matters because there is no national clearing house that supplies criminal records for every jurisdiction. As online information proliferates, there are more places to look for information, but also a greater chance that databases will not contain the same facts. Earlier this year, the National Consumer Law Center reported that many databases used by background searchers mismatch people, classify criminal offenses incorrectly and omit critical information. Zachary Kramer, who teaches employment law at Arizona State University, said he isn't surprised that companies that conduct such searches sometimes rely on incomplete or outdated information when they look into a person's background. "It happens a lot," Kramer told the Arizona Republic. "A background check is supported by data, and when the data isn’t right, it’s an incredible hassle for everyone to try to correct [it]."
The upside is that filing complaints and lawsuits when incorrect information leads to a job loss "can encourage the background-check companies to do a better job," Kramer added.