Uber to Pay Up to $25 Million for Allegedly Misleading Consumers About Background Checks

On April 7, 2016, Uber agreed to settle a lawsuit brought against the company in 2014 by the district attorneys of both San Francisco and Los Angeles. In the suit, the ride-sharing provider was accused of misrepresenting the comprehensiveness of its driver background screening process when the company referred to its service as “the safest ride on the road” or claimed its background checks were the most thorough in the industry. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey alleged that Uber’s lack of fingerprinting, which is required for taxi operators in California, gave riders a “false sense of security when deciding whether to get into a stranger’s car”

As we reported in our blog post when this suit was first filed, considering fingerprinting to be the “gold standard” when it comes to background screening continues to be a myth perpetuated by the media, legislators, and now the courts. The FBI has acknowledged that its fingerprint-based repository is limited and that it’s missing disposition information in about 50 percent of its records. Professional background screeners are well aware of this deficiency and, as a result, utilize a much more reliable set of tools, including direct court research across multiple jurisdictions, in order to build a significantly more complete picture of an individual’s criminal history. We talked about these tools in our blog post from last May What Constitutes a Thorough Criminal Background Check.

Uber has claimed no wrongdoing in the settlement, but have agreed to pay a civil penalty of $10 million to Los Angeles and San Francisco counties within the next 60 days. The company will be subject to a $15 million civil penalty if they don’t comply with the terms of the settlement over the next two years.

Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office Press Release

Uber Driver’s Shooting Spree Puts Target on Background Screening

The terror and tragedy that Uber driver Jason Dalton brought upon the city of Kalamazoo during the evening of Saturday, February 20th is unimaginable.  His shooting spree, which took place at three separate locations around the city over the course of seven hours, left 6 dead and 2 wounded with the victims ranging in age from 14 to 74. Dalton, who is a married father of two and drives part time for Uber, randomly chose his victims in between picking up new fares.

When the story initially broke, news sources were quick to call into question Uber’s background screening procedures and, in particular, their use of a third-party professional background screening company rather than a fingerprint-based background check. One online media outlet even subtly implied in their headline that Dalton had a criminal history which wasn’t uncovered by the Uber background check. However, all information thus far indicates that Dalton had no prior criminal history, therefore no manner of background check, third-party based, FBI fingerprint or otherwise, could have uncovered information to keep him from getting behind the wheel for Uber.

The media attention given to background checks has increased exponentially as ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft have experienced rapid growth and expanded into cities all across the US. Unfortunately, the news stories that result from a horrific incident like the one that occurred in Kalamazoo often provide misleading information and perpetuate misconceptions about the background screening process. Foremost, the public is led to believe that if a background check isn’t based on the FBI’s fingerprint database then it is deficient and that fingerprinting is the only reliable option for uncovering criminal history. It’s important to understand the underlying factors that make this belief inaccurate.

FBI background checks aren’t available to all employers. Only those mandated by federal or state law to utilize the FBI database can do so. However, even if all employers were allowed to use the FBI background database, there are inherent deficiencies in the information available that would make it a highly ineffective and a risky solution by itself.

The FBI system was not built as an employment screening tool. Although many state and federal laws now mandate FBI fingerprinting to screen applicants and volunteers, the FBI system is flawed – and admittedly so. (See our previous blog post on this topic.) In fact, according to a a study published by the United States Government Accountability Office in February of 2015 , only 20 states reported more than 75% completeness when it comes to fingerprint records and 7 came in under 25%.  In addition to the less than 100% compliance with submission of information from the local agencies, many jurisdictions don’t fingerprint for all arrests. If the states do submit proper fingerprints, many of those records are never updated with the final disposition of the charge. An employer needs the full criminal history including the critical disposition information before making a decision on whether or not to hire an applicant.

Alternatively, professional background screening companies provide a more comprehensive view of the applicant’s background by utilizing multiple sources and techniques to gather information. Direct county, state, and federal court access to criminal records, combined with sex offender registry searches, terrorist watch lists searches, motor vehicle history, and verifications of past employment and education make for a much more thorough and reliable background check than fingerprints alone. While database searches are also often included in a comprehensive search package, relying on any single database, especially one known to be incomplete, as the sole source of information for uncovering criminal history puts companies and the communities they serve at risk. The bottom line is there is no one source for the most accurate background search, it is best to compile information from as many sources as possible to create the overall picture of prospective employee or volunteer.

In addition to the comprehensiveness of a professional background screen, there are many protections in place for the applicant or volunteer that are not found when FBI checks are utilized. When a professional background screening company conducts the search, the rules of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as well as many state and local laws must be followed to protect the applicant.

As the conversation around background checks ramps up in the aftermath of this horrible crime, our hope is that the media and legislators will become educated about the myth of the fingerprint “gold standard” and realize that pressing for companies like Uber to rely on it for vetting their applicants will likely have unintended consequences that harm the community more than help it.

In the days and weeks that come, we at Hire Image wish the victims, their families, and the community of Kalamazoo healing from this immense tragedy.

Top 10 Background Screening Predictions for 2015

Criminals found in the workplace, sweeping changes in legislation regarding medical marijuana, high-profile cases of resume fraud, and increased number of class action lawsuits against businesses for non-compliance with employment laws — it’s no wonder so many employers realized the importance of professional background screening in 2014.  (more…)

An Uber Example: Making the case for proper compliance in background screening

In our blog entry from October 2014, we commended ride-sharing service company, Uber, for taking the initiatives to ensure the safety of its customers by implementing policies requiring background checks of all its drivers. After a string of assaults and vehicular accidents, Uber instituted screening procedures that closely examined each driving applicant’s county courthouse records going back seven years (for every county of residence), federal courthouse records going back seven years, multi-State Criminal Database going back seven years, national Sex Offender Registry screen, social security trace, and motor vehicle records (historical and ongoing). The system put in place by Uber is a considerable improvement over the lack of thorough screenings that previously existed.

But Uber remains under scrutiny for its screening business practices. In a recent lawsuit, San Francisco District Attorney’s office prosecutors are challenging Uber’s claim of performing “industry-leading” background checks on its drivers arguing that, without fingerprinting applicants, Uber cannot possibly be taking all necessary steps to ensure customer safety and is, in fact, giving customers a “false sense of security.”

The belief that fingerprinting constitutes a ‘thorough’ background screen is greatly flawed. (See our blog about the pitfalls of relying on the FBI database.) Placing a high value on fingerprinting results is a myth perpetuated by popular television shows such as CSI where detectives identify suspects and criminals via an FBI fingerprint database with 100% accuracy. While the science behind fingerprinting is invaluable, the database linked to those fingerprints is simply unreliable. The reality is that records in the FBI database are incomplete and inaccurate – and professional background screeners know this. In 2006, the FBI acknowledged its fingerprint-based repository is limited, noting that it’s missing disposition information in about 50 percent of its records. Sadly, not enough legislators know this fact — but they need to. Hire Image looks forward to working with legislators to add the words “either/or” in all legislation mandating fingerprinting to give employers the option of using either a professional background screening company or the FBI database. Applicants and employees will benefit from the increased consumer protections and employers will benefit from the efficiencies and thoroughness of the searches.

In addition to facing accusations about its background checks, Uber is also engaged in multiple separate lawsuits. The most recent involves driver Abdul Kadir Mohamed who alleges Uber violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by firing him after running a background check performed outside of the legal scope of the FCRA regulations. Specifically, Mohamed claims he signed no sole disclosure regarding the consumer report procurement, required under law. He alleges that he did not receive a copy of the consumer report that caused him to lose his job, nor did he receive a pre-adverse action notice which would have provided him with the opportunity to dispute the findings. Mohamed says he never received notice of his rights regarding the report.

Cases like Mohamed’s are nothing new. CVS, Domino’s, K-Mart and Disney have all shelled out millions in class action lawsuits just like this one. Clearly, the importance of compliance cannot be overstated. Keeping up-to-date with FCRA rules, regulations and forms is something many organizations aren’t able to do without a professional background screening company working to guide them. Our blog from March outlines the three most common FCRA violations in HR procedures that have not only come under recent legal scrutiny but also resulted in class action lawsuits against employers – all of which could easily be avoided by taking standard compliance steps.

It is imperative for employers to understand their legal obligations and have compliant procedures in place. Learning lessons from companies like Uber who are unfortunately in the spotlight is but one way to evaluate your own best screening practices. Utilizing the services of a solid, accredited background screening company like Hire Image is the best way to ensure your screenings are thorough, and to reduce your risk of compliance lawsuits.


The FBI database isn’t what it’s cracked up to be

February 12, 2013

The Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps a listing of identifying information taken from fingerprints submitted voluntarily by various criminal justice agencies in connection with arrests, or relating to naturalization or military service.  Many employers are under the impression that this FBI identification database is the “gold standard” in background screening. In reality, the background screening community considers the FBI’s database as a tool to be used but not reliable enough as a single source for a background check. (more…)

Contrary to popular belief…The real story behind background screening reports

This morning, The Today Show ran a Rossen Report segment about how background screening companies have made reporting mistakes that caused candidates to unfortunately lose out on job opportunities. Specifically, the report followed several job seekers who were mistaken for criminals with the same or similar names, thus ruining their chances for getting hired.

Contrary to popular belief, there are no foolproof background searches or “national database” searches that cover the entire country. As a matter of fact, many states don’t submit criminal records to national databases and those that do only submit incarceration records. With the absence of a true national database, the best search option available is hands-on research at the primary source: the county courthouses. However, with over 3,000 counties throughout the U.S. and over 10,000 courthouses housing criminal records, it would be an onerous and costly task to search a person’s criminal history in every courthouse. (more…)