LUBBOCK, Texas (CN) - Texas cannot legally challenge U.S. guidelines that limit an employer's right not to hire felons because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has not taken action against the state, a federal judge ruled.
Texas sued the EEOC last year, challenging the agency's "enforcement guidance" that "purports to limit the prerogative of employers, including Texas, to exclude convicted felons from employment."
Citing the Administrative Procedure Act and the Declaratory Judgment Act, the lawsuit
argued: "The state of Texas and its constituent agencies have the sovereign right to impose categorical bans on the hiring of criminals, and the EEOC has no authority to say otherwise."
Texas said the guidelines conflict with state law that bans certain state agencies from hiring felons because those agencies have policies that require criminal-background checks to prevent felons from holding jobs of public trust.
Though Texas said it "faces a very real and likely threat of enforcement" because of the contradictory laws, U.S. District Judge Sam Cummings dismissed the case without prejudice Wednesday for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.
Here, Texas is not alleging that any enforcement action has been taken against it regarding the guidance by the Department of Justice, and the EEOC cannot itself sue states, the court noted.
"Based upon this, the court cannot find a 'substantial likelihood' that Texas will face future Title VII enforcement proceedings from the Department of Justice arising from the guidance," Cummings wrote. "While this certainly could happen, standing cannot be premised upon mere speculation."
Texas failed to show the guidance is a final agency action or that it is "not seeking a premature adjudication in the abstract without any actual facts and circumstances relating to the employment practices at issue," according to the ruling.
EEOC spokeswoman Kimberly Smith-Brown said the agency was pleased that the court granted its motion to dismiss.
"The EEOC will continue to pursue our mission to stop and remedy unlawful employment discrimination in order to achieve justice and equality in the workplace," Smith-Brown said Friday.
Bean, a spokeswoman with the Texas Attorney General's Office, said Friday the state will appeal the ruling.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott blasted federal officials for allegedly endangering the public immediately after he filed the lawsuit in 2013.
"Once again, the Obama Administration is overreaching its legal authority by trying to impose hiring rules on states that violate state sovereignty and - in this instance - endanger public safety," Abbott said at the time. "Texas has an obligation to enforce its absolute ban on hiring convicted felons for certain jobs such as state troopers, school teachers and jailers."