Rejected bus driver sues SEPTA over background checks

A school bus driver turned away from a job as a SEPTA bus operator because of drug conviction dating back nearly 20 years filed a federal lawsuit against the transit agency Wednesday.

The suit said that SEPTA routinely misuses criminal history information turned up in background checks to eliminate potential employees, even when the offenses happened long ago and are irrelevant to the job.

SEPTA said it was looking into the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.

The suit said SEPTA’s background check and criminal histories violate federal employment laws. The suit comes as state, federal and municipal laws are changing how criminal records impact employment.

In Pennsylvania, pending legislation would automatically expunge many misdeameanor offenses after 10 years.

The federal suit also comes during what has been dubbed “National Reentry Week,” as policymakers turn their attention toward the employment, housing and health challenges faced by people released from prison.

Filing the suit was Frank Long, 56, of Philadelphia, who was working as a school bus driver when he was interviewed for a SEPTA bus operator job on Oct. 17, 2014. He received an offer contingent on a background check, the suit said.

Long completed a form allowing SEPTA to look into his background. Late in October, SEPTA’s recruiter called and revoked the offer based on Long’s criminal history.

According to the lawsuit, Long had 1997 convictions for possession and manufacture of a controlled substance based on a 1994 arrest.

“I’ve lived in Philadelphia practically all my life and have experience doing exactly the kind of work SEPTA was hiring for,” Long said in a statement issued by his attorney, Ryan Allen Hancock of Willig, Williams & Davidson. “I care about my community and am not a threat to anyone. This job would make a real difference in my life.”

Hancock and Long are seeking class action status for the suit, which they say affects all potential SEPTA employees wrongfully turned away from jobs based on improperly obtained and analyzed background checks.