Tragedy Highlights Importance of Employment Background Checks

Safety is one of the top reasons employers use pre-employment background checks, as it is essential to protecting employees, customers, and the public. A tragic situation, and the trials that followed, highlight the potential dangers of incomplete background checks.

According to the complaint, in 2018, cable company Charter Communications, LLC (“Charter/Spectrum”) hired Roy James Holden, Jr. as a field technician. While employed with Charter/Spectrum, Holden displayed increasingly troubling behavior such as:

  • Documented sexual harassment of female co-workers
  • Disregard for safety, health, or hygiene
  • Evidence of severe stress over financial and family problems
  • Extreme changes in behavior

Holden’s troubling behavior included a pattern of stealing credit cards and personal information from elderly female customers. He used what he took to purchase things for himself. Despite the problematic behavior, Holden continued to enter the homes of Charter/Spectrum customers.

On December 11, 2019, Holden was called to do work in the home of Betty Jo McClain Thomas. The next day he arrived at her house again in his Charter/Spectrum van. Holden told Ms. Thomas that additional work needed to be done and was allowed entry. Once inside, Holden attacked Ms. Thomas and stole her credit cards, something he had done with previous customers. Ms. Thomas died of her injuries.

Legal Ramifications for the Employer

During legal proceedings, the Charter/Spectrum HR Director admitted that the company did not conduct employment verification for Holden as required by company policy. The HR Director said if they had verified Holden’s job history, it would have revealed information showing dishonesty. Background screening would have disqualified Holden from the technician position.

The complaint alleged, among other things, that Charter/Spectrum acted negligently by:

  • Hiring Holden
  • Failing to properly investigate Holden’s criminal history, mental health history, and prior employment history
  • Failing to supervise and monitor Holden properly
  • The reckless employment of Holden
  • Failing to implement and enforce safety policies and procedures

On July 26, 2022, a Dallas County jury awarded $7 billion in punitive damages to Ms. Thomas’ family. In addition, Charter/Spectrum was ordered to pay 90% of the $375,000,000 in compensatory damages to the family. This tragedy serves as a reminder to employers of the importance of comprehensive screening of candidates. Employers may want to review their current checks with their legal team.

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