Lawsuit Claims Insufficient Background Checks Failed to Curb Possible Offender

Could a background check help prevent a crime from taking place in the future? That’s the question at the heart of a new lawsuit heading to court in Missouri.

The situation is like the movie ‘Minority Report’ for the screening industry (the Tom Cruise vehicle where police officers of the future can arrest murderers before they commit their crimes). Its outcome could have major implications for the way employers conduct background checks and could create a push for more employers to use nationally-accredited agencies like Active Screening to perform their screening procedures.

Facts of the Case

Here’s what we know about the case according to this newspaper article:

  • A Missouri woman was sexually assaulted by a cable repairman in her apartment in December 2012, two days after he performed a service call there.
  • Her attacker, James Helderle, worked for cable company Charter Communications, who subcontracts work to Broadband Infrastructure Connection and Communications Unlimited Contracting Services Inc.
  • During the service call, Helderle asked the woman whether she had a boyfriend and what she liked to do for fun. He later told his supervisor he thought the woman was “cute” and found out that “her boyfriend was in the Air Force.”
  • He later tracked down her cell phone using company records and texted her.
  • The woman told her boss about her uneasiness with the employee’s behavior and her boss called Charter Communications and complained on her behalf.
  • Helderle was fired following the complaint.
  • The next day he broke through her apartment door and attacked her.
  • She is suing Helderle and the three companies associated with employing/hiring him, saying the crime could’ve been prevented if they had performed better background checks.

Examining the Evidence

The root of the civil suit is that Helderle’s employers – which, her attorneys say are all three companies even though two of them deny he was their employee – didn’t do enough to check his background before hiring him. The woman’s attorneys claim that none of the companies verified Helderle’s previous employment history, contacted his personal references and conducted too narrow a background check for a 21-year-old.

If they had, her attorneys say, they would’ve found out that Helderle had allegedly:

  • Fabricated his job duties with multiple prior employers
  • Suffered mental and physical abuse from relatives and foster families
  • Posted emotionally charged comments on his social media sites like Facebook – the woman’s attorneys say Helderle “suffered from extreme anger issues; that he was not afraid to die and even welcomed death; and that he sought physical fights with multiple people.”

A spokeswoman for the cable company said in a statement that all employees are required to pass drug and alcohol tests in addition to criminal and financial background checks. She reiterated that the company requires contractors to maintain the same standards. Helderle was only considered a trainee at the time he met the woman. It’s not known if trainees are considered employees who must undergo the same types of tests and background checks outlined by the company spokeswoman.

The screening policies of other telecommunications companies in Missouri are being scrutinized in the wake of this case. AT&T provided the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a look into its process. An AT&T spokeswoman told the newspaper that the company conducts background checks on all new hires and requires vendors to prove the same thing. “Our background checks are extensive and include things like criminal checks, sex offender registry checks and confirming employment history,” she said in an email to the newspaper.

Takeaways

One aspect of this case that is sure to be a battleground is the use of social media to vet candidates. Social media by itself should never be used as a primary screening tool. Why? Most social media profiles include information that could be considered discriminatory if you use it in a hiring decision. It can, however, be a useful tool in a comprehensive screening policy – IF you follow these tips:

  • Outsource Your Screening Needs
  • Develop a Written Hiring Policy
  • Make Sure EVERYONE Knows the Policy and Follows It
  • Get Written Permission
  • If You Choose to Screen Social Media, You Need to Treat Everyone Equally
  • Don’t Make an Offer then Rescind Based on a Social Media Check

Read this post for more tips.

It will also be interesting to see what comes out of the allegation that none of Helderle’s personal references were vetted especially because it’s widely known that a huge portion of people lie on their resumes. Expect Charter’s hiring, screening and on-boarding processes to be picked apart in court. Was everyone treated the same? Were personal references always, sometimes, occasionally or never called? If there are discrepancies in Charter’s systems, the woman’s attorneys will do their best to expose them.

Finally, can a candidate’s personal history affect his likelihood of committing a crime? And should that information be used as a screening tool? That’s a doozy of a question and incorporates so much more than what we write about here. But we’ll be watching the outcome of this case closely because it will, undoubtedly, have a massive ripple effect.

This entry was posted in Background Screening, Clinical Services, Criminal Records, General, Human Resources, News, References & Credentialing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , by Patricia Carlson. Bookmark the permalink.

Patricia Carlson is a content writer who specializes in B2C and B2B inbound marketing. She blogs regularly for clients about the background screening and finance industries, and generates newsletters, white papers and email campaigns for a variety of businesses. Patricia also produces a heavy rotation of editorial material for home design, law enforcement, and family magazines. She’s been writing professionally for more than a dozen years, and for Active Screening for more than two of those. Check out LinkedIn for a roster of Patricia’s clients and links to published works. When she’s not interviewing sources or researching trends, she’s living a fast-paced Florida life questioning the antics of her two young children, partner and mischievous cat. Patricia loves to talk tennis and TV on Twitter – give her a shout @pattycfreelance.

 
        
Active ScreeningBarbara S.
Healthcare Industry

"Here at Holland Hospital, we have been extremely pleased with Active Screening. The report results come back quickly, usually within 24 hours or less.  The staff at Active Screening is easy accessible, knowledgeable and responds to our questions promptly."

Active ScreeningLynn C. Staffing Industry

"Benton Mobley has been and remains my Main point of contact at Active Screening from the beginning; so aside from the comfort of dealing with the same person all these years, there is the most important fact of all;  customer satisfaction. Benton knows the business like the back of his hand; and that is what we need in our fast paced industry of staffing. He is the all-time BEST!  MY employer, Leslie, believes in the notion that great service deserves to be rewarded, so we are here for the duration.We get immediate and personalized attention for any and all concerns we need addressed, and in the staffing industry, this is vital."

Active ScreeningCayce R. Education Industry

"My experience working with Active Screening for our background check process has been very positive.  The reports are almost always completed in a very timely fashion. The information reported appears to be very thorough and accurate.  On the rare occasions that we have questions or problems, the customer service team is always very quick to respond and resolve the issue.  Overall, I am very pleased with the service I receive from Active Screening."

Active ScreeningCraig H. Staffing Industry

"Your customer service is excellent.  The turn around time on background checks is quite fast.  Excellent work.  I haven't had a single problem."

Active ScreeningJackie C. Education Industry

"I wanted to thank you and your staff for being so patient and working so diligently with the Human Resources staff during our recent endeavor to process all of our work study students through background screenings.  We have never had to process so many requests within such a short period of time before, but thanks to you and your staff we made it. Again thank you, we made a good choice in selecting Active Screening."

Active ScreeningLindsey W.  Financial Industry

"I wanted to share my appreciation for your wonderful service...switching background screening companies could have been a stressful task, but your company made the transition seamless. Your website was extremely easy to navigate and the turn around time has been great. I appreciate when information is missing or entered incorrectly during ordering, your company notifies me right away to ensure that my error does not hold the reports results, causing us a delay in hiring an individual...Active Screening has been great to us and I would definitely refer them to others."

Active ScreeningTerry S. Property Management

"Working with Active Screening over the last year and half has been a wonderful experience. They deliver fast and informative results at the best price. Their level of professionalism and the speed they respond to our issues is a benefit that any company can value from. I would highly recommend using Active Screening and their amazing team."

Active ScreeningYulesis D.  Staffing Industry

“Interactive Response Technologies (IRT) has more than 2,000 employees at multiple locations across the United States. IRT has been using Active Screening to conduct criminal background checks since 2006. During this time, Active Screening has consistently returned accurate reports, usually with less than 48 hours turnaround. If there are any problems or inconsistencies with the reports, their staff has called to notify us so that we can attempt to rectify the situation. The staff at Active Screening is always courteous and congenial over the phone. In our opinion, Active Screening is outstanding.”

Active ScreeningAndy N. Software Provider

 "Active Screening has helped us screen our applicants in record time for more than two years.... we are very impressed with the professionalism and speed with which their service team responds to our questions. They understand our needs and are a pleasure to work with. I highly recommend them."

Active ScreeningCassie J. Staffing Industry

"The Active Screening team is very informative; they provided a complete consultation on all the services, so I understood what I needed, and saved me hours and hours of my time learning the various services. Their reputation, as being on the cutting edge of employment screening best practices, certainly held true in this instance. The expertise they brought to the table was invaluable to our understanding of our applicants backgrounds. I highly recommend Active Screening to anyone with the task of screening large numbers of applicants and needing reliable customer support."

Active Screening

With over 20 years of law enforcement experience I can attest to the fact that the strongest predictor of future criminal behavior is a person’s criminal history. As the manager of campus safety at my church, I depend on Active Screening to provide a thorough assessment of every criminal history background check we request. For more than 3 years, Active Screening has been faithful to this task with timely, accurate and reliable service.

Active Screening

We have benefited from knowing that we are not exposing the communities we work with or ourselves to unnecessary risk. We continue to have a perfect record in that we have never had a serious incident with a trip participant causing harm or acting inappropriately with any community member or fellow team member- thank goodness!

Active Screening

I would highly recommend any association or organization who conducts background checks to use Active Screening. In addition to my involvement with WAHA, I am an officer in a corporation with over 500 employees who provide treatment, mental health, and correctional services for children and adolescents. Our company is mandated by law to do comprehensive background searches and I can say with the utmost sincerity that Active Screening product rivals that of any government or other private sector process.

Active Screening

We have used Active Screening and their solution VERITY to screen all our coaches and volunteers working with youth. The online system gives us an easy and cost-effective solution to collecting forms and payments from our applicants...and we simply login to view the results of who passed or failed. It's so easy....thank you Active Screening.