Lawyers in the District filed a class-action lawsuit against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority on behalf of nine men who say the agency’s criminal background screening policy violates their civil rights.

The suit alleges that Metro has an “overly broad, unjustifiably rigid and unduly harsh” employee screening policy that disproportionately bars well-qualified black workers from jobs with the agency. The suit also names contractors Diamond Transportation, Executive Personnel Services and First Transit as co-defendants.

“The policy disqualifies many job applicants and employees based on criminal history that is not related to the job at issue or occurred so long ago — in some cases, 20 or 30 years in the past — that it is irrelevant to any fair determination of employee honesty, reliability or safety,” according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court.

The nine plaintiffs say they were fired from jobs or denied employment with Metro after the transit authority conducted a criminal background check. Most of the men have been convicted of nonviolent criminal drug felonies, but some have also been found guilty of assault, robbery or brandishing a firearm, according to the complaint, said the Washington Post.
There could be 150 or more other plaintiffs, said Matthew Handley, director of litigation for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, which is representing the men along with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Arnold & Porter.

A Metro spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation, referring reporters to testimony that General Manager Richard Sarles gave to city officials earlier this year, said the Washington Post. The ban-the-box legislation approved by the D.C. Council prevents employers from rejecting potential job applicants based on their criminal background but allows screening after a job interview.