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Sheetz chain accused of racial discrimination in its hiring process

A representative for the chain tells it will "address the claims in Court when the time comes.”  
Sheetz gas station and convenience store in Pennsylvania.
Sheetz gas station and convenience store in Pennsylvania.Ben Hasty / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

A federal agency has brought a lawsuit against Sheetz over alleged racial discrimination in the chain’s hiring practices. 

On April 17, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against Sheetz, alleging the gas station and convenience store chain violated federal law by denying employment to a class of job applicants because of their race. 

The lawsuit says Sheetz, which operates over 600 locations in six states, “disproportionately screened out” Black, Native American and multiracial applicants in its hiring processes. 

“Sheetz has maintained a longstanding practice of screening all job applicants for records of criminal conviction and then denying them employment based on those records,” the EEOC wrote. 

While the lawsuit does not allege Sheetz was motivated by race when making hiring decisions, it claims that the chain’s company-wide hiring practices violated provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibit unintentional discrimination. 

Essentially, Title VII prohibits employers from using a seemingly-neutral employment practice that actually has an outsized impact on people belonging to a protected class. 

“Black job applicants comprise a disproportionately high number of the total number of job applicants whom Defendants have refused to hire because of criminal justice history information,” reads the lawsuit. 

The legal filing states while approximately 14.5% percent of Black applicants were denied employment because of their criminal history, only about 8% of white applicants had been, adding that the jurisdictions in which Sheetz hires and employs workers, “are subject to arrest, conviction, and incarceration at significantly higher rates relative to White persons.”

In a press release, the EEOC says it filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Northern Division, in Baltimore after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process, which aims to resolve employment discrimination charges. 

The lawsuit seeks to grant a permanent injunction keeping Sheetz from engaging in alleged race discrimination — “including discriminatory denial of hire” — as well as for the chain to institute and carry out policies, practices and programs that provide equal employment opportunities for Black, Native American and multiracial applicants. It also asks the court to provide “appropriate back pay” to all aggrieved parties.

The lawsuit was initiated by the EEOC’s Baltimore Field Office, and claims the illegal hiring practices have taken place in Maryland as early as August 2015.

EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence noted federal law mandates employment practices causing a disparate impact because of race or other protected classifications (like gender, religion or sexuality) “must be shown by the employer to be necessary to ensure the safe and efficient performance of the particular jobs at issue.”

“Even when such necessity is proven, the practice remains unlawful if there is an alternative practice available that is comparably effective in achieving the employer’s goals but causes less discriminatory effect,” Lawrence said.

Further, EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office Director Jamie R. Williamson said in the press release the agency is committed to reintegrating individuals with criminal records into society by ensuring they have fair access to employment.

“To that end, the EEOC is dedicated to making sure that individuals with criminal records are not unlawfully excluded from employment opportunities because of race,” she said.

For its part, Sheetz tells it has been working with the government agency regarding the allegations.

“Sheetz does not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” says Nick Ruffner, public relations manager for Sheetz. “Diversity and inclusion are essential parts of who we are. We take these allegations seriously. We have attempted to work with the EEOC for nearly eight years to find common ground and resolve this dispute.  We will address the claims in Court when the time comes.”   

Sheetz is a family-owned company employing more than 23,000 people in its locations across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and North Carolina.