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Background Check Case Against Canon Heats Up

(CN) - Canon faces additional discovery into claims that it relies on criminal-background checks without letting employees or job applicants dispute the findings, a federal judge ruled.

Anya McPherson leads the class action against Canon Business Solutions, now known as Canon Solutions America, in Camden, N.J.

In a 2012 application for a permanent position, the temporary data entry employee in Burlington, N.J., allegedly told Canon that she had not been convicted of a crime within the last seven years.

McPherson says she got the permanent job but human resources called her and fired her two weeks later because the background check had uncovered a more-than-decade-old felony conviction.

The complaint alleges that McPherson had gotten the conviction expunged after applying for executive clemency. It also says Canon never gave McPherson a copy of the report, described her rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), or gave her an opportunity to explain the conviction before firing her.

McPherson claims Canon typically fires employees and denies jobs to applicants without properly disclosing or allowing them to dispute the accuracy of their criminal-background reports.

She seeks to represent all those who suffered an adverse employment action based on consumer reports within five years before the complaint was filed until the date of trial.

After a federal magistrate refused to limit discovery to the two-year limitations period of the FCRA, Canon moved for partial summary judgment or to strike the class definition.

The company said that the FCRA allows 5-year-old claims to be brought only if they were unknown to the claimant for no more than two years before the complaint was filed.

U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle denied Canon's "premature" motion Feb. 20.

"Here, claims arising within five years of the complaint are timely under the FCRA, except if the injured party had knowledge of the violation more than two years prior to the filing of the complaint," Simandle wrote. "In other words, all claims within the proposed five-year definition are potentially timely. At this stage, the record does not foreclose the possibility that evidence may demonstrate a corporate policy of concealment, or at least lack of notice to the affected individuals that negative criminal background information had surfaced in the [consumer reporting agency] CRA reports, and could permit an inference that the putative class members, or a subclass of members, did not have knowledge of alleged violations before Dec. 21, 2010. Further discovery may well shed light on a scheme to use and conceal CRA reports, or may buttress defendant's position that putative class members were aware of Canon's use of background checks before Dec. 21, 2010. Because 'it is not clear that, as a matter of law,' plaintiff's class allegations must fail, the 'parties should have the opportunity to develop the record on this issue.'"

Finding that limited discovery would not unreasonably burden Canon, the court ordered depositions of company representatives and database discovery for Dec. 21, 2007, to Dec. 21, 2010.

As Canon has thus far provided discovery largely limited to reports related to claims arising after Dec. 21, 2010, McPherson has asked the magistrate judge to compel more discovery, according to the ruling.

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