Man Denied Employment Receives over $3.5 Million Jury Verdict
Ever wonder what that box means when you apply for a job?: “Authorization to conduct a criminal background check.”These words are often followed by a statement of applicant rights under the Fair Credit and Reporting Act (FCRA). Hardly any thought goes into this question, especially by applicants with no criminal record. A jury in Gainesville Federal Court weighed in on this question on Friday, October 28, 2016 in the case of Williams v. First Advantage.
In a tragic case of mistaken identity, Richard Williams of Levy County, received compensation to the amount of $3.55 Million in a federal courthouse on Friday morning, October 28th. It took the jury from Thursday afternoon until early Friday to calculate the loss of income, emotional stress and punitive damage awards.
Unfortunately, for Mr. Williams, he was mistaken for a Broward county man named Ricky Williams, due to the similarity of their names and identical date of birth. When Richard Williams applied for a job as a customer service representative, he was ultimately denied due to the numerous felonies committed by a man who lived 300 miles away.
So, Richard Williams called the company that provided the erroneous background report and was assured the error would be corrected. He soon found out that was not the case when he was denied a job at a grocery store chain. Unable to work, unable to pay his bills, Richard Williams found himself on hard times. He was unable to eat, depressed, and stressed out about money. This led Mr. Williams to seek legal counsel with a Gainesville employment attorney, Michael Massey of Massey & Duffy, PLLC (www.352law.com). Mr. Massey sought compensation for Richard Williams under the Fair Credit and Reporting Act.
The lawsuit states the company did not follow its own procedures for people with common names or set up an effective procedure for someone already misidentified once. The Defendant did not use available reports that show Social Security numbers or address histories. Publicly available records from the Department of Corrections showed Ricky Williams was in jail in Broward County when Richard Williams applied for the job at the grocery store chain.
The Defendant states its procedures result in accurate reports 99.61 percent of the time, and cannot be held liable for marginal errors. However, this statistic only reflects disputes filed, not overall errors that go unreported. Between 2009 and 2013, the Defendant received 17,341 disputes nationwide resulting in 14,346 revisions. In Florida, 2,038 consumers filed disputes from 2010 to 2013 resulting in 1,746 revised background reports.
Co-counsel for Richard Williams, West Palm Beach attorney, Barry Balmuth provided these comments in an article with the Gainesville Sun “They never acknowledged that they did anything wrong,” Mr. Balmuth said. “They just accept that 14,000 people is like collateral damage. They say look, we have a low error rate and mistakes are going to be made, but there’s nothing wrong with our system.”