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By: Matthew Foree
Ninth Circuit Holds Combining State and Federal Disclosures Violates FCRA’s Standalone and Clarity Requirements
The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently issued a decision regarding the disclosure requirements under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). The FCRA includes certain requirements for employers prior to obtaining a consumer report on a job applicant. For example, employers must provide the applicant a “clear and conspicuous disclosure” that they may obtain such a report “in a document that consists solely of the disclosure.”
The Ninth Circuit took the FCRA’s language literally, prohibiting the employer from including any superfluous information in the disclosure document. The case at issue, Gilberg v. California Check Cashing Stores, LLC, involved a class action filed by Desiree Gilberg, a former employee of CheckSmart Financial, LLC (“CheckSmart”). Before she began working with CheckSmart, Gilbert signed a disclosure regarding background information, which provided that CheckSmart could obtain her background report and that she had the right to request a copy of the report. The form also included information regarding her right to obtain a copy of the report under various state laws. Gilberg alleged that the disclosure violated the FCRA and California’s state law disclosure statute. The Ninth Circuit agreed and reversed the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to CheckSmart.
The Ninth Circuit interpreted the statute literally by holding that providing other state disclosure information in the disclosure form violated the FCRA’s stand-alone document requirement. The Court held that such “extraneous information is as likely to confuse as it is to inform” and, therefore, does not further the FCRA’s purpose.
The court also held that the disclosure, although conspicuous, was not clear. The court focused on the following language of the disclosure at issue:
The scope of this notice and authorization is all-encompassing; however, allowing CheckSmart financial, LLC to obtain from any outside organization all manner of consumer reports and investigative consumer reports now and, if you are hired, throughout the course of your employment to the extent permitted by law.
Among other things, the court recognized the lack of clarity in the first part of the sentence and the typographical error in the second part of the sentence, which lacked a subject and was incomplete. Therefore, it determined that this provision contained “language that a reasonable person would not understand.” The court also held that the disclosure would confuse a reasonable reader because it combined federal and state disclosures.
According to the Gilberg decision, employers in the Ninth Circuit cannot include disclosures required by other state laws in the same document that contains the FCRA disclosure. The obvious result of the decision will be the increase in documentation driven by separate disclosure statements. Although it is unclear whether other courts will adopt the Ninth Circuit’s holdings, employers would do well to revisit their forms to ensure compliance. Given the court’s position that language that would confuse a “reasonable person” would violate the clear and conspicuous requirement, employers should also ensure that their disclosures are clear.
If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Matthew Foree at (770) 818-4245 or [email protected].