In Chicago, a Lyft driver is in jail on charges of tying up a passenger and raping her in the back of the car.
In Texas, a customer accused a Home Depot delivery driver of grabbing her by the neck when she said the wrong item had been dropped off — leaving marks.
And in Hawaii, a manager at a storage facility allegedly sexually assaulted a teenage girl — the daughter of a frequent client.
Each had a criminal history. But their employers had relied on third-party background check companies that had failed to turn up their past convictions, according to court documents and sources — allowing people with criminal pasts to work directly with customers, sometimes in the most vulnerable of settings.
The dominant player in the industry, Sterling Talent Solutions, is an unseen component of how thousands of companies hire workers. From its headquarters in New York, it employs thousands of people around the world, bringing in revenues of almost half a billion dollars a year, and screens employees for nearly 30% of Fortune 500 companies.
Criminal records checks are done nearly universally in the hiring process today. And the rise of the gig economy has only bolstered the background check industry as it depends on quickly hiring new employees for high-turnover positions — while assuring their customers they are safe when interacting with strangers.
The TaskRabbit handyperson who shows up to help you move furniture, the babysitter you’ve hired from Care.com, even the flight attendant who serves you a drink on a Southwest Airlines flight may have all been vetted by Sterling.
New demand has only put more pressure on companies to speed up their services in order to compete for lucrative contracts. When Sterling first released its own proprietary technology more than a decade ago, it claimed it could search court records 50% faster than its competitors. Today, it tells prospective clients that it stands apart with its advanced technology, accuracy, and speed, and has won business from companies like Walmart and Disney.
Sterling’s growth has accelerated in the last decade, which has seen it buy around a dozen of its competitors. Goldman Sachs and other investors acquired a stake in the company for nearly $700 million in 2015.
Behind the scenes, Sterling’s rise has been built on cutting US jobs and expanding its operations in the Philippines and India, where verification teams sometimes struggle to meet the volume of checks that Sterling’s clients request. Despite the emphasis on technology, much of the work still relies on low-paid workers to sort through records. Offshore workers at Sterling described to BuzzFeed News large caseloads that led to manual errors, problems with technology, and even panic attacks and injuries from the stress and repetitive nature of the work.
Other issues with background checks arise as well — records databases can be incomplete, and workers don’t always have enough information to confirm that a conviction belongs to the person who applied for the job.
Around 200 lawsuits have accused Sterling of failures — most often attributing criminal records to the wrong person, preventing them from getting a job. But the very worst errors are the ones in which people with violent criminal records slip through the net, and go on to harm the very people they’re supposed to work for.
Sterling delayed an interview with BuzzFeed News several times and then ultimately declined to speak.
The company also did not answer a detailed list of questions. A spokesperson said in a statement that “as a leading provider in the background screening industry, Sterling relies on rigorously tested processes, proven best practices, and many years of experience in this highly regulated and complex sector as part of its commitment to keep companies and consumers safe.”
But interviews, police reports, consumer complaints, and court records tell a different story. Sterling’s focus was on growth above all, many employees said, even as it struggled with the very technology it claimed made it a world leader — and mistakes led to alleged harm. Ultimately these piled up, and a grave error in its Mumbai office would lead Sterling to lose its contract with Lyft in the US, one of its biggest clients.
On a summer evening in 2017, a young woman with bright blonde, shoulder-length hair got into a Lyft in Chicago around 11 p.m. After a few minutes, she fell asleep — not noticing that the driver, Angelo McCoy, had canceled her ride. Instead of dropping her at the intended destination, she said he pulled into a secluded alleyway.
Once parked, McCoy allegedly crawled into the backseat, and after threatening his young woman passenger with a knife, grabbed her iPhone. He then zip-tied her hands behind her back, according to the police report. Unable to move, she said he forced his penis in her mouth, vagina, and anus. McCoy held her there for hours, she said.
When he was finished, McCoy drove off, his passenger still in tow. The young woman only managed to escape when McCoy stopped at an intersection in the North Side of Chicago.
Police later charged McCoy with assault, kidnapping, robbery, and unlawful restraint. McCoy is currently in jail awaiting trial for these allegations, along with charges associated with a second rape, according to Cook County Sheriff’s Office records.
When Sterling screened McCoy, he had a recent, previous conviction for theft, BuzzFeed News found, a criminal charge that Lyft lists as a disqualifying offense for drivers. A lawsuit against both Lyft and Sterling cites a longer rap sheet of McCoy's that included a conviction for possession of weapons. A Cook County clerk told BuzzFeed News that not all case files for McCoy were available.
Sterling’s background check failed, the lawsuit alleges.
In a filing Sterling said that it was not responsible for protecting the victim from McCoy’s alleged criminal act. Lyft declined to comment, citing active litigation.
Ride-hail companies have long been under fire for not checking their drivers thoroughly enough. In 2014, the Los Angeles and San Francisco district attorneys sued both Lyft and Uber for how they were representing their background checks to their customers. Lyft paid $500,000 to settle that claim and agreed not to describe them as “industry leading.” Uber fought the allegations but ultimately settled as well in 2016.
A few years later, Massachusetts passed legislation requiring in part that Lyft and Uber drivers submit to an additional state-run background check. In 2017, it disqualified thousands of drivers from both companies, finding more than 950 had committed violent crimes and 51 were sex offenders, according to figures provided by the state. (Uber contracts with Checkr, one of Sterling’s competitors.)
Criminal checks aren’t standardized — searches vary based on what a client orders from third-party companies. The fractured nature of the US court system, which includes thousands of courts across the country, means not everything will show up in just one search.
Typically searches start with a Social Security number trace to verify an applicant’s identity, determine where they have lived, and then search the court records in those states and particular counties. Lyft had requested a Social Security number trace from Sterling on its drivers, along with a nationwide criminal search, a county court records search, a federal criminal court records search, and a US Department of Justice 50-state sex offender registry search.
Sterling has automated some of its record searches, employees said. But most of the time, a criminal records search requires a pair of human eyes to read through court documents, confirm the contents, and code the results for a client.
The ads posted for jobs in Sterling’s call centers in India and the Philippines show the company targeted fresh graduates who usually required only a year of work experience to qualify for a “nonvoice” or back-office position like data entry or searching US court records.
The process was prone to error, employees said, especially given the speed with which the checks needed to be completed.
On any given day, Sterling’s staff might have a target of reviewing the files of 80 people. That means searching the courts for each jurisdiction where someone has lived, reviewing the documents related to each file, ensuring they matched the correct person and that they were reportable under federal and local laws, and then coding those results — all in just a few minutes. Common names were particularly challenging because there could be a large number of matches and lots of files to review.
It was “very stressful. That’s how people used to make a lot of mistakes,” said Sneha Soneja, who worked in Sterling’s criminal records department for about a year around 2017.
Lots of errors cropped up, agreed Avisek Dasgupta, who was a training manager at Sterling for several years in Mumbai. Sometimes, he said, workers would simply use “control + F” to search court documents for keywords instead of reading through them to determine if there was a conviction.
Other times, employees didn’t take the time to confirm whether state laws allowed them to report a case — in California, for example, it’s illegal to report a felony conviction more than seven years old. “They want to do it fast. They want to get through the files because there are targets to make,” Dasgupta explained about the criminal verification workers.
Not all said they found the targets stressful. Several employees told BuzzFeed News they enjoyed the work and that they could meet the targets because it was a straightforward task to search for records.
Occasionally leadership at the office requested Dasgupta hold extra training sessions with employees to guide them away from these errors, he added. But it had little effect. “Everyone was trying to save time and cut corners.”
The driving force behind Sterling is William Greenblatt, who founded the company while at the University of Maryland in 1975. At first the company was dedicated to secret shopping and polygraph testing, until the 1980s, when regulation changes led him to shift his business to employment screening.
For years, the company’s annual revenues had hovered around $1 million. But things picked up across the industry after 9/11, as demand inevitably grew for more extensive screening procedures. Greenblatt told the New York Times in 2005 that he expected revenues around $50 million that year. In a 2008 profile of the company, a business publication wrote that Greenblatt had a “maniacal focus on growth.”
With increased demand from employers, speed became more important. The proprietary technology that it had recently launched made it 50% faster than the rest of the industry, Sterling said. Today the company’s website states that the technology allows it to automatically pull digitized records from more than 2,300 counties around the country.
“We’ve taken the most important component of the background check, the criminal check, and made it faster, more accessible and more accurate than at any other time in our history,” Greenblatt was quoted as saying in a company press release.
Sterling began snapping up other background check companies in 2008 and soon started making lists of the fastest-growing companies in the country published by Inc. and Deloitte. By the end of 2010, it had attracted private equity investment.
Those companies allegedly made mistakes in their background checks too. One of the first that Sterling acquired, Abso, cleared a registered sex offender.
After Dale McShane was hired as the manager of a storage facility in Honolulu, his boss requested a background check on him in early 2009. Abso reported that its search of county-level criminal records and a sex offender registry was clear, so McShane kept working.
But months later, McShane was accused of forcibly kissing and touching the daughter of one of the clients who used the storage facility. The 15-year old had recently moved to Hawaii from Japan and didn’t speak English well. On multiple occasions, McShane had allegedly cornered her — sticking his tongue in her mouth and rubbing her inner thigh, a lawsuit later alleged.
The owner requested Abso run another check on McShane after the family filed a police complaint. Abso’s second report included an added search of the Department of Justice’s sex offender registry, which revealed McShane was a registered sex offender in the state of Hawaii. He had a prior conviction for attempted third-degree rape.
Andrew Daisuke Stewart, a lawyer for the victim, said it illustrated one of the shortcomings with background checks — that not all records databases are complete.
In a court filing, Sterling — which had acquired Abso by that point — denied it was responsible for McShane’s alleged assault.
Yet Sterling gained more prominence as it grew on the backs of these smaller companies. In 2011, Greenblatt, his spiked hair whitened since his college days, spoke to Fox Business about his company. In a dark pinstripe suit, he warned that the services Sterling offered were essential because “most of what businesses see is not true.”
“People lie about everything,” continued Greenblatt. “It’s the American way.”
People lie, but Sterling gets it wrong sometimes too. Unsuspecting job applicants who were never dishonest about anything on their application or had no criminal history could be caught up in a web that ultimately led them to lose out on employment and wages.
Last March, Matthew Mintz opened the Lyft app on his phone to start a shift when he discovered he had been locked out of his account. He had already been driving part time for about a year, but this time, a notice popped up that directed him to an email saying a background check had turned up criminal charges against him. Sterling’s report mentioned sex-trafficking convictions. (Some companies rerun background checks to ensure they are aware of any crimes that an employee might commit while working for them.)
Lyft suspended his account.
But Sterling seemed to have in fact confused Mintz — a 53-year-old man living in Shakopee, Minnesota — with a 26-year-old in Chicago who shared his name and had recently been convicted for his role in an international scheme trafficking hundreds of women from Thailand who were forced into prostitution across the US to pay off bondage debts.
Unable to work, Mintz sued Sterling. It’s one of nearly 200 suits that the company has faced in the last decade over failures of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which governs what third-party companies like Sterling can report to clients. The consumer protection measure limits companies from reporting arrests more than seven years old, and outlines that companies have to take reasonable precautions to make sure they are reporting accurate information.
Sterling settled with Mintz within a few months — the terms of which included a nondisparagement agreement.
But the frequency of mistakes is likely far higher than the number of lawsuits reveals. In the last five years, the Federal Trade Commission has received another 190 complaints about Sterling, according to a Freedom of Information Act request. Complaints range from incorrect information or outdated charges being reported to the company not responding at all to requests to correct those mistakes.
“There’s not a lot of financial incentive to ensure accuracy,” said Michelle Drake, a consumer rights attorney in Minnesota who has litigated cases against Sterling. From a revenue standpoint, “you can make up for inaccuracy with a higher volume” of clients, she added.
Sterling itself admits there are limits to its services. In contracts reviewed by BuzzFeed News, Sterling lays out pricing terms and assures that client data will be kept confidential. But in signing, the client acknowledges that “Sterling cannot act as an insurer or guarantor of the accuracy, reliability or completeness of the data” or confirm “the services will be uninterrupted or error-free.”
Sergei Lemberg, a consumer rights attorney who represented Mintz, described errors within the industry as a “pervasive problem” and said that those cases made up a significant portion of his practice.
“Some of the errors are just egregious,” he said, adding that the most prevalent mistakes he sees are because of confusion over common surnames.
Sterling tells clients that it can do a criminal records search in under 24 hours in most cases. But the challenge is matching someone’s name to criminal records that don’t have a unique identifier of a person. Social Security numbers, for example, aren’t always a part of court records.
“Sometimes there wasn’t always a birthdate or a way to verify that the name was the same,” said Amol Khengre, who worked in criminal records in Mumbai. In those cases, he said, if criminal records came up on a person, his team “still attached it to the file.”
These types of errors happen across the industry. In 2012 the Department of Justice (DOJ) sued HireRight for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, including failing to take reasonable measures that ensured it was reporting correct information. The company paid a $2.6 million penalty. The DOJ declined to comment about whether it was currently investigating Sterling or its competitors.
Those competitors, like First Advantage and HireRight, have also been sued a number of times, and there are hundreds of FTC complaints against those companies, records show. Some are alleged to have ended in harm, too.
Charlene Allen was outside her home on a hot September day in a suburb of Dallas to meet a delivery driver from Home Depot. When the delivery arrived, she noticed the part she had ordered for her washing machine was the wrong one.
Allen asked the driver — Nigel Graves — to wait so she could call Home Depot. When Graves refused, Allen took the delivery paperwork from him so she could jot down the reason for declining the order.
But Graves’ demeanor suddenly changed, she said in a lawsuit. With one hand he grabbed her by the neck, and with his other he gripped her left arm right above her elbow. In pain, she dropped the paperwork and Graves grabbed it and drove off.
Just a few years prior, Graves had been indicted in a nearby county for charges of burglary and aggravated assault. But the background check company, First Advantage, had not discovered Graves’ previous criminal history, a suit later alleged. The parties resolved the case and it was then dismissed. First Advantage declined to comment further. A lawyer for Allen declined to discuss the case.
If Sterling does make a mistake on a background check, it’s not always easy to correct, according to federal agency complaints, lawsuits, and interviews. A small team responsible for resolving disputes is based in Ohio. But Sterling’s client services team is often the first line of defense for customers to correct any errors — and like the criminal records verification team, it’s based offshore as well.
John Garfin started in this department around 2014 when the team was first formed in the Philippines — where a cluster of them worked overnight in one of its Manila offices to keep up with US hours.
In the beginning, the client services team took on all of the calls from US clients, Garfin said, and there was rarely a break. He estimated about 80% of the calls that he handled were about mistakes or disputes over background checks.
Robert Duncan found himself trying to get through to Sterling a few years ago. After he was hired as a security guard in 2015, Sterling reported to his potential employer, US Security Associates, that Duncan had been charged with 29 child pornography–related felonies in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and had been convicted of five of them.
Sterling had the wrong person, though. The Duncan convicted of child pornography charges was Robert Everett Duncan Jr., who lived in Pennsylvania, while the Duncan who had applied for the security job was Robert Eustace Duncan and lived in Texas.
Duncan later alleged that he contacted the court directly, disputed the error with his employer, and tried to reach Sterling several times — but could never get through on the phone to even speak to someone.
What Duncan didn’t know is that lots of people were trying to get through too, so employees just had to keep working — sometimes through their lunch break, and sometimes past the end of their shift.
Workers weren’t allowed to leave or take breaks when the queue of calls remained high, multiple employees confirmed. “The number of calls was more important than the people servicing them,” Garfin explained.
The team often heard from repeat callers, frustrated that they hadn’t gotten an answer yet — not knowing their inquiries could be bouncing between offices in different countries.
And after each call, a two-minute timer began counting down on the worker's screen. The timer paused the next incoming call, but employees had to scramble to fill in notes on the call or forward inquiries or complaints to a different department to find out what had gone wrong. Sometimes they didn’t even get the full two minutes — employees described managers forcing calls through to their phones before the timer had expired.
In cases like Duncan’s, the client services department could be messaging workers in India, the Philippines, and the US to find out how an error may have happened.
Email inquiries were coming in at the same time that employees answer as well. “It was kind of traumatic, to be honest,” said a worker who left the department last year.
One night, the worker described, she got so overwhelmed that she started feeling dizzy and her head began pounding. She went to the medical office to lie down, she recalled. But as the hours dragged on, things got worse. Eventually, she said, the night guard escorted her to the emergency room to treat her panic attack.
She didn’t decide to quit until she saw an error that Sterling had made in a background report for a client who continued to call about it. “I just lost faith in the company,” she said.
In Duncan’s case, his attempts to fix his report failed. He said US Security Associates later contacted him to say that Sterling wasn’t correcting his report. He lost his job offer.
After months of unemployment, he took a job at McDonald’s instead.
In January 2016, the head of a background check company called TalentWise called its employees into a conference room in its office outside of Seattle to announce the company had been bought by Sterling.
TalentWise was a smaller player in the industry, but had caught the attention of others for the technology it had developed. “We were all kind of shocked,” said an employee who was in the meeting. “We always looked at [Sterling] as this terrible, old company that no one wanted to work for.”
Another former TalentWise employee who stayed on with Sterling after the merger called them “the 400-pound gorilla in the industry.”
Six months before that, Goldman Sachs and a partner had acquired a majority stake in Sterling for nearly $700 million. Jack Daly, a managing director of Goldman Sachs, described it as an exciting investment because of the company’s “clarity of vision and leadership position within an attractive industry.”
Goldman Sachs’s investment only encouraged the company to make more acquisitions. TalentWise was the company’s ninth acquisition in recent years.
“Goldman had a very deliberate strategy to invest,” said a former Sterling executive. “We went on a spree. Most of it was buying businesses — EmployeeScreen, RiskIQ — that was all buying logos. The acquisition of TalentWise was a technology play.”
TalentWise had developed its own technology that made it easier for human resource departments to initiate background checks from its own platforms — which Sterling had noticed. But in this rush to grow faster, Sterling also assumed it could purchase a company to shortcut its needs.
“It had a really slick, modern user interface,” said the Sterling executive involved in the transaction. Sterling was looking to improve the capabilities of its own platforms. “They said they had things we needed and if they had that, we could cut our time to market.”
Under pressure from executives to make the transaction happen, the department in charge of the transaction scrambled to find money in the budget to acquire TalentWise and only spent about a month looking into the investment, said the employee.
Sterling’s CEO at the time, Clare Hart, came into TalentWise’s office in Washington state and said Sterling management wanted to keep things the same. The tight-knit startup did all of its sales and screening in-house.
But TalentWise staffers soon started to get fired by their new management. “Each week three or four people would drop. It became obvious quickly they were forcing people out and from a cultural point it wasn’t a fit,” said a former TalentWise employee who stayed through the merger.
Salespeople were largely kept on, but all the operations staff — including those in verifications and customer service — were let go. New employees in Mumbai and Manila took up those positions. The transition was rocky. TalentWise’s clients weren’t keen on suddenly troubleshooting any issues through an office so many time zones away, said former TalentWise managers. And offshore employees had a whole new company’s procedures to learn.
Lee Galgo had been working for Sterling as a verification specialist in Manila in 2017, but after the merger she was promoted and became a team leader on TalentWise accounts.
The changes left many employees bewildered, said Galgo. “Everyone was always in limbo,” she said. “People would get confused about which processes to follow.”
Clients grew vexed. “There was an incredible amount of complaints,” said a former TalentWise manager who transitioned to Sterling. “I don’t think it was their fault,” he added, referring to the offshore teams, “they just weren’t trained on what to do.”
Before Sterling took over, TalentWise often used to win new business from clients after other third-party companies had made mistakes, said Cody Sprecken, a former sales manager who stayed on during the transition. “You’re certainly going to get mistakes” in background checks, he said.
But after the merger, Sprecken said, making sales for Sterling became about offering cheaper services in exchange for locking down many clients into 24- or 36-month terms that automatically renewed. Contracts reviewed by BuzzFeed News stipulated that Sterling be their exclusive screening vendor.
And Sterling was strict in enforcing these terms. Since 2012, it has sued more than a half a dozen clients in New York state for failing to give proper notice of terminating the contract, records show.
Meanwhile, integrating the Sterling and TalentWise platforms was more difficult to realize than first thought. While trying to scale up TalentWise’s platform with a much greater number of clients than TalentWise ever had, things weren’t working properly. Costs started ballooning.
“We were sold a piece of junk,” said a senior Sterling employee.
As an incentive for employees to work the nighttime shifts in Sterling’s Manila offices, a commuter van picks up staff in the evenings and they get paid a small, additional bonus. But turnover remains high — hiring notices pepper groups on Facebook advertising for call center jobs. And there’s open hiring Monday through Friday in the afternoons at their main office hub in the south of the city, ads show.
Maryfred Domingo joined Sterling in Manila as a data clerk in 2017, and she would regularly create between 80 and 90 files each night for Canadian clients, for which she would earn around $320 US a month. Manual entry work brought its own issues: Sometimes clients submitted handwritten employment applications that Domingo and other data clerks had to interpret. Other times the IDs were hard to read because a photocopy was fuzzy.
“Sometimes one file would give us a headache” because it was hard to read all the documents, she said. “We worked fast, always copy and paste, copy and paste,” she said, adding there was a lot of time pressure.
Most in the Manila and Mumbai offices weren’t allowed to bring in paper, pens, or phones as a security measure. Much of the information workers were reviewing, like Social Security numbers, was sensitive.
But the company experienced a data breach in June 2015, it acknowledged in a court filing. That month, in Mumbai, a worker had taken an unsecured laptop home, and their car was later broken into, according to an employee familiar with the incident. The laptop was stolen. It was unclear how much client information was exposed, but Sterling disciplined employees over it.
Overnight hours were typical, as staff tried to keep up with the time zone of North American clients. Domingo said she didn’t mind it — the commute was faster. But for others it was hard to adjust.
One former Sterling employee said she ended up renting a studio apartment with three others near the office to escape the brutal Manila traffic that added hours to her commute. To sleep through the days after a night shift, they put up cardboard in the windows. Others said the hours made them sick — their bodies never adjusted to sleeping through the day.
After close to a year on the job, Domingo developed an inflammation in her left hand. The pain got increasingly worse as she continued the work — her fingers often flying across the keyboard. At first the pain seemed normal, she said, but then it grew worse.
“I started to feel really bad — I could not even lift a cellphone,” she said. Domingo flexed her hand slightly to show her motion was still limited.
A doctor diagnosed her with an inflammation in the tendons in her hand — and recommended she quit the job or the pain wouldn’t stop.
And as the late hours wore on, people got tired and hurried to make their daily targets. “You saw incomplete information, people rushing,” said Christopher Iresare, a former supervisor who trained employees. “It happened all the time.”
Still, Sterling continued to grow — acquiring a company called Verified Person in the fall of 2016 and then two other companies in 2017. The offices in Mumbai expanded, and Sterling opened up a second office in Manila. Today, the company says it has over 50,000 clients.
Thousands of criminal checks were coming into the Mumbai office a day, recalled one employee, and Lyft was one of its big contracts.
But Sterling mostly escaped scrutiny for its role in Lyft’s background checks until October 2017, when a Chicago news outlet reported that one of Lyft’s drivers had been sentenced to federal prison for 90 months on charges of aiding terrorism. Prosecutors alleged Raja Khan had wired funds to an al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan in order to buy materials for an improvised explosive device.
“They should check my background before they give me the job. That's their problem, not my problem,” the driver told WGN.
Lyft, meanwhile, pointed to Sterling. “Our independent background check provider should not have approved this driver, which it did.”
News of a former al-Qaeda operative driving for Lyft attracted the attention of Chicago officials, who pressured Lyft to drop Sterling. By April 2018, Lyft had stopped using the company to screen its US drivers.
BuzzFeed News found other instances of Lyft drivers with criminal records who had been screened by Sterling and gone on to allegedly harm its passengers. In Boston, a driver with a previous drug conviction was arrested for stabbing a passenger. Lyft policies say it doesn’t hire drivers with disqualifying drug convictions.
And in San Diego, another young woman accused a driver of raping her so brutally he left lacerations and tissue damage. He had a criminal history with multiple charges as well — including a guilty plea that was only a few years old for resisting an officer.
Lyft declined to confirm whether Sterling reported the past convictions to them in these cases as well.
In response to questions about its relationship with Sterling, a Lyft representative told BuzzFeed News: “The safety of the Lyft community is our top priority, and since the beginning, we have built products and policies with that in mind.”
Lyft continues to contract with Sterling to screen its drivers in Canada.
Lyft said that since Canadian criminal checks are done differently than US criminal checks, the same concerns did not apply.
But several Sterling employees who had worked on Canadian accounts in the Philippines told BuzzFeed News that they saw mistakes resulting from the manual entry work and the high volume of files.
Zahara Fernandes, a former vice president of Sterling in Mumbai, told BuzzFeed News the mistake in not catching Khan’s criminal record was a result of human error. “With a human-involved process there is definitely a possibility of failure,” Fernandes acknowledged.
But she added that overall, the quality of the company’s screening process was strong. “Sterling has a lot of controls and a lot of checks to limit that failure,” Fernandes said.
In response to questions about its relationship with Sterling, a Lyft representative told BuzzFeed News: “The safety of the Lyft community is our top priority, and since the beginning, we have built products and policies with that in mind.”
They added that Lyft had recently expanded its safety policies by adding continuous monitoring for criminal records of its drivers. “Any driver who does not pass both the annual and continuous screenings is not able to use our platform,” they said. “We are committed to constantly improving the experience for all users, and keeping our community safe.”
Within Sterling, the publicity of the error resonated. Fernandes said employees were briefed on it. Layoffs hit that spring. In Manila, employees whispered about the news that the company had cleared someone with terrorist charges. And the CEO left the company in May last year.
There was a new attention on any sort of error, employees said, that could suddenly mean a termination. “People were in fear. They were thinking, If I make any small mistake, I will get terminated,” said a former worker in criminal verification. “Everyone was afraid.”
Sterling finally abandoned the TalentWise technology.
But six months ago, Sterling acquired another background check company in Australia.
Sterling keeps getting bigger. ●