TransUnion battling attempts to ban employment credit checks
April 28, 2010|By Julie Wernau, Tribune reporter


TransUnion, the Chicago-based credit reporting agency controlled by the powerful Pritzker family, is fighting to preserve the use of credit checks in employment screening, even as several states, including Illinois, threaten to outlaw the practice in most circumstances as discriminatory.

The company is one of three major credit bureaus that collect information on the borrowing and bill-paying habits of most Americans. They make money from employers and financial institutions that use such information in helping guide their decisions about lending, extending credit, housing and hiring.

TransUnion's chairman, Penny Pritzker, serves on the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, charged with advising Barack Obama's economic recovery efforts. Some say her company's lobbying efforts, which have extended to Oregon and Connecticut, undermine the nation's goals of getting back to work more than 15 million unemployed people in the U.S.

TransUnion has publicly defended credit checks as a way for employers to protect themselves against theft and fraud. The thinking is that someone who has a poor credit history or has gone bankrupt might be more likely to engage in unethical or illegal behavior, especially in jobs where they handle money or are involved in financial matters.

But legislators and labor experts contend credit screening just makes it difficult for honest people to find work.

"If you deny people a job, they just become more poor. It's not good for anybody. It's not good for the recovery of the economy," said attorney Adam Klein, a partner at Outten & Golden LLP, who has filed employment discrimination cases against major corporations. "The people who are benefiting from this are the credit bureaus."

Klein was one who questioned whether Pritzker's commitment to economic recovery is weakened by TransUnion's stance on employment credit checks.

TransUnion lauded Pritzker's role on the recovery board, saying she is dedicated to "creating jobs and improving lives."

"Employers understand that individuals, who have been unemployed as a result of these difficult time, maybe have also had difficulty keeping up with their financial obligations," said Steve Katz, a TransUnion spokesman. "What employers are interested in is whether an individual acted prudently while he or she was employed. A pre-employment report is one tool to help them assess that."