Tech & Work

False information in security check costs woman her job

An employee at Corporate Mailing Services had to undergo a security check in order to work on a contract with the Social Security Administration. When the check came back with false information, she was fired.

Like there's not enough to worry about, what would you do if a routine security check came back with an error that ultimately cost you your job? That's the situation Eschol Amelia "Amy" Studnitz had to face, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Studnitz had been working for Corporate Mailing Services (CMS) since August 2008 as a senior accountant when the company was awarded a contract to handle mail for the Social Security Administration (SSA). This required a security background check that, for Studnitz, went woefully wrong.

The SSA sent CMS a letter stating that the background check showed Studnitz was "unsuitable" to work on the contract but didn't specify what exactly made her unsuitable. CMS, in a glorious show of support, fired Studnitz, giving her just a few minutes to leave the premises.

Two weeks later, CMS received a letter from the SSA that backed her claim of innocence. There was no mention of the first letter in which she was deemed unsuitable.

You're thinking that, well, now the worst part is over. If the U.S. government could actually come through the red tape with a correction, Studnitz would surely get her job back. But then you would perhaps be thinking of a made-for-TV movie, because in real life, it didn't work out that way. Studnitz's company refused to hire her back, citing unrelated infractions that supposedly took place while she was an employee.

Apparently, there was trouble brewing in the company's relationship with Studnitz to begin with, but isn't it scary to think a technical glitch could result in the loss of a job?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

60 comments
anthonyg_55
anthonyg_55

she sounds like she needs prepaid legal services @ www.ppl.blastoffnetwork.com/anthonygardner07

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

So that's is something unusual is it? What about technical Glitches adversely affecting People and causing a end of Life event? Yes one of the things about working with computers is that they are unlikely to kill anyone so while you can be careful the end result isn't always that Important. [b]Of course unless you work in the IT Department of any Medical Institution that is.[/b] :^0 Col

gary
gary

Isn't a big question mark. Of all of the talk throughout government of streamlining information processing, every little of it concerns methods and procedures for correcting erroneous information. I have always believed that if a civil servant wants to get even with someone, they do not to hire a hit-man. Just put a date of death in the Social Security records. Can you imagine the face of the poor person? "I'm sorry but there must be some mistake. Our records indicate that Mr. Smith has passed away. Could you please give us your real name?"

TBone2k
TBone2k

Its a purely financial descision. If the company were to hire her back, they would be admitting they shouldn't have fired her in the first place. Its easier to dig up some frivolous problem and use it as an excuse. Then they can hold out and hope she doesn't have enough money to pay for a lawyer.

EddieS
EddieS

Here's a big PR blunder: Leaving aside the wrong done to the employee, would you contract with them now that you know you may have employees on your account that they're just looking for an excuse to get rid of?

mdtallon
mdtallon

Isn't it nice that you can be fired for a reason that you're not privy to? That you're classified information even to yourself...

adamspivey
adamspivey

There was a guy at my company that came up as a sex offender. He has a common name, so they misidentified with someone else. I lost my license for over a year, because some clerk misfiled my insurance information. I had to hire a lawyer to finally resolve that issue. The last thing a person wants to deal with is one of these tyrannical government bureaucracies.

phyrefly.phyre
phyrefly.phyre

I heard of a similar situation in the UK, when a nurse applying for a new job was offered on condition of clear background check. The background check came back with errors, but once she'd fixed them, they'd hired someone else. Unfortunately she had no recourse to the employer either, although the background check was carried out by them directly.

DMambo
DMambo

Her name is Eschol Amelia Studnitz. How can there be a glitch with an unusual name like that? Imagine how easy it would be for John Jones or Abdul Mohmmed to have incorrect info on file.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

They sell the info to 3rd party companies that perform background checks. Employers go to these companies to perform criminal background checks as opposed to doing the legwork and contacting a state half way across the country. How do I know? A friend was turned down for a new job due to a felony record. I've known the guy my entire life. I proceeded to help him figure out where this felony came from. The local clerk in his county suggested via phone that he contact company xyz that his state sold criminal record info to. Turns out, there was an error in their database. By the time the situation was rectified, the job was filled. Granted, he can take legal action but it will be expensive and he will be lucky to recoup his legal fees. Things I learned: 1. Who the hell gives my government the right to sell my criminal record? That is seriously f'ed up! If a company needs my criminal record, they should contact the government or local municipality directly. To hell with their convenience. 2. Due to No. 1, there is a chance that a hungover database admin could screw up my life. 3. There is nothing I can do about number 1 because people don't give a poop until it happens to them.

jck
jck

a good time for a lawsuit if there are laws against unlawful termination of employment. You'd think they'd have administrative leave until confirmed, or at least they'd require absolute proof. Another mark in the column for stupid business moves.

steve
steve

I have read somewhere that this is a real problem in India. Malicious people, such as in-laws trying to get hold of an inheritance, bribe officials into issuing a death certificate. The victim then becomes a cipher... without legal standing they can object to nothing, make a claim in no court have no vote and no representation. And, of course there is no process for becoming undead. for example: http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report_fake-death-certificate-opens-can-of-worms_1282707

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

"dead, hebious corpus..." (and our 1994 guilty pleasure movie referenced again) :D

rich95134
rich95134

She won't need money for a lawyer. I guarantee you there are sharks salivating at the thought of getting their fins into the "deep pockets" of CMS, while simultaneously generating some self-serving publicity!

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

On the business side, the legal department may have felt it demonstraited a recognition of guilt. It may have been management making use of an optertunity to push an unliked staffer out the door too. On her side, she now has to answer the question in her next interview; so why where you let go from your last employer? "the FBI made a mistake" may not fly. Mind you, she can also make use of the publicity captured by this and answer with; yes, I'm *that* Mrs. X.

kkopp
kkopp

That's something I don't understand. How can information on me be classified that I can't look at it. Its my information isn't it.

dacentaur
dacentaur

We've got all this technology now to create gigantic databases and serve the information all across the world but it finally comes down to the kind of person(s) who is/are handling the database - the people who input information and maintain the information. THOSE are the people who should be thoroughly checked FIRST. What say y'all?

dacentaur
dacentaur

That's a very good point. I come from another culture so I don't know if this is a common Latin American name. This could also indicate cultural bias.

jck
jck

They gave SSA a list of SS numbers to check, as a means of privacy protection too. Thing is if that's the case, she could have been paying monies she needs to have checked into. That, or someone hand-produced the SSN list for the SSA and ended up transposing digits.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

is that this likely happens dozens of times more often than we know... remember... you have to PROVE the information is wrong to get it corrected. Maybe it should be set up like credit reporting... That you're told the name of the reporting agency and what was reported, and can challenge information you think is incorrect.

NexS
NexS

And I cannot understand where the legality of selling someone's confidential information comes into it.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I've worked at places where everyone had to be cleared. But it was simple, you signed an offer of employment that stated it was contingent upon clearance. This woman's environment was different, she was not hired with that stipulation. In other words they changed the rules in mid stream. I coudl see someone making it a requirement for promotion, but unless there was some language in the offer that stipulated that she "may" be asked to be cleared in the future, it should not hold up (jurisdictions do vary). And you are right, the standard procedure at most companies would be to put her on leave until the matter is resolved. James

RiNnIx
RiNnIx

I know that most employees sign a form when hired agreeing that employment is "at will", and can be terminated for any reason at any time by either party. We as employees, union or not, need to stand up for ourselves and show these companies that can radically alter our lives that they can't just summarily dismiss us for no good reason.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

[i]Its my information isn't it. [/i] Sometimes it's someone else's observation.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

This cost me a job once. Student Clearinghouse told the background screeners that there was no record of me having attended the university I listed. I was told I was out of the running, and called a cheating liar in the process. A few weeks later, I got a call back, letting me know about the error (couple numbers got switched in SSN), and that they'd like to offer me the job (sans apology, I might add). I took a pass. Turned out to be the right move (they were bought out within a year).

jck
jck

she should just sue the pants off her former employer, if her state allows that sort of recourse for wrongful termination. That is what would get them to act appropriately as an employer in cases like this: knowing next time this sort of action will cost them again.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

Anyone can get it at your local courthouse, so they are free to sell it. It isn't confidential at all. Case in point, I monitor our state's map that shows you the location of convicted sex offenders. I noticed one moved into our neighborhood. Utilizing public info I found out where he was convicted, what he was convicted of, where he lives, who owns his property, who he was renting from, where he worked, what he drove and basically everything about him. Since he was fresh out of prison and he sexually assaulted an 8 year old, I felt a little threatened. I notified everyone in his area and the local schools so that they wouldn't place bus stops near his residence. Thankfully he moved. Some may say I overstepped my bounds. I don't care. He sexually assaulted an 8 year old. You don't get much lower. He should have been put to death anyway. He gets a decade or two in prison and the poor child has to be emotionally scarred for his entire life, which is forever altered.

jck
jck

I think the article is right. There must have been some other circumstance for them to release her summarily. They must have had something waiting to happen, and this was just an easy excuse to release her earlier. I know with what I've looked at recently involving other employment, I am going to try to negotiate some terms due to the wording of their policies and guidelines. If I get it and get my terms, I'll probably stay in that job for a very long time.

jck
jck

But in the state I live in, it is "right to work" under law which means they have the right to have someone else do your work and fire you at any time...i.e.- at-will employment. However, here I can walk away from a job with no notice and it is not something they can put on my employment record. If they do, I can sue.

dacentaur
dacentaur

I suppose what one wouldn't be privy to is not information on us but the reason(s) and the reasoning behind why one is being let go. Of course, once they keep that from you, they don't want to say what information is bad because then you would have a chance to defend yourself then, wouldn't you? And why would they want you to have that?

ibivi
ibivi

I would definitely check to make sure that your official record is not affected by this in-house adjustment. A man who applied for his social security at age 65 ran into difficulties because his date of birth was wrong in the governmental file. He had no idea and his benefits were delayed until he produced original documents to prove that he was entitled. Make sure that the government information on you is correct in all aspects to prevent problems down the line.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

for the SSN of a suspect if he can't produce ID. Whether he happens to know yours, or if he accidentally guessed it when he made one up, it could get you in a lot of trouble. I have a friend who was pulled over for rolling through a stop sign. When they ran his info, it come up with a "failure to appear" on a shoplifting charge in a town 100 miles away, and he was arrested, and his car impounded. He was transported to the other town to appear where it was discovered that the person in the store video clearly wasn't my friend, and he was released... but he missed a day of work, and had to pay $100 to get his car out of impound (reduced because the lot owner felt bad for him... it would have been over $300), plus his lawyer's fees. Over $500 he'll probably never see again. Both cities claimed they were acting in good faith. What can you say? Unless/until they find and identify the real perpetrator, they'll never know how he came up with Gene's SSN.

ijusth
ijusth

At a job I had years ago one day my paycheck was lower then it should be and there was money withheld. It was for missing child care. Well needless to say my wife asked WTF is going on. Seems that somehow someone got my SSN and I had to go to the SSN office to prove I was who I said I was and that I never lived where the other person did or worked where he worked so I could get the money back and clear this mess. The first thing that happens is the action and never research on the facts.

itproadmin
itproadmin

One of my ex-employers had a biometric time keeping system; they used the last four digits of a persons SSN for their PIN code. When it came time to enter me into the system, the last four digits of my SSN were already being used by another employee with the same last four digits. They told me to just change my very last digit to a zero so I could be entered into the system. I agreed as it didn't seem like it was a big deal. Someone in HR created a spreadsheet of clock numbers to keep up with the clock numbers. Later, somewhere in the midst of all the spreadsheets and copy/paste of numbers, the last digit of my real SSN number was changed to a 0. Over two years of earnings reported to the SSA with the wrong SSN. Talk about a major screw up... I just hope it will not somehow hurt me down the road.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

She has grounds for a Defamation suit against the employer. Sorry but that is a cop out and no the employer is not required to dig a deeper hole for them self in a case like this. If she was so good she would have been rehired, if she caused trouble the Security Check was grounds enough to get rid of her without doing her any damage. Col

ibivi
ibivi

Her employer had a perfect out to fire her. But did she have an employment history that warranted the firing? Given that the note was rescinded I think her employer had an obligation to rehire her. Saying that they had issues with her isn't enough. That is the stock answer that employers give about anybody they fire. She is entitled to know why she wasn't rehired and what impact it will have on her ability to get another job. Otherwise, I think she has grounds for wrongful dismissal.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

If she were a valuable asset to the company, they [b]would have[/b] re-hired her.

tjpeeler
tjpeeler

she was fired for reasons that were found to be mistaken, putting the company at risk of reprisal. Often the company mindset includes taking all steps necessary to 'cover their assets' rather than steps to correct a mistake in an honorable manner.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

she would have had no trouble getting re-hired. Unless she was not rehired as a result of illegal discrimination, it's just an excuse.

science geek
science geek

"Not a model employee to begin with"? Yeah, right. As if the company wouldn't have said ANYTHING to get the monkey off their backs! Real convenient how their reorganization came at just the right time to eliminate the position of someone they treated like that. Put it all together and it sounds more like lawduit-protection than statement of fact.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

is there really such a thing as wrongful termination? It sounds like the woman was not quite the model employee to begin with...

dacentaur
dacentaur

It may be available freely but the issue here is the authenticity of the database. Yes, it's good that it is free and that everyone can access it but should a third-party make money off of it? Especially when they rely on THEIR own database - the authenticity of which no one can check?

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

most of it is online somewhere... just have to know how/where to look.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

Public information. It's pretty easy to demonstrate. All you need do is go to your local courthouse/sheriff department and start inquiring info on someone. As long as your paperwork is in order, you'll be amazed at the results.

NexS
NexS

but that sounds like it's running along the border line of confidentiality breach. I'm not in the US, but i thought that people have a right to keep personal information personal, excepting for the law (ie: police)

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

CompanyXYZ take joes_schmoe_tax.record and merges it with joe_schmoe_criminal.record to get joe_schmoe.total_history. Some subroutine out there written by some half baked kid fresh out of college then goofs me with some other schmoe named joe schmoe and voila...I now have a criminal record and possibly a new social security name.

jck
jck

But a lot of the time, they will merge data too, such as voting records and property records, etc. Some services are okay, but I agree. It should be something government doesn't allow for profit. If anyone should make a profit from it, it should be the government. We paid for it after all.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

Keep it a matter of public record, but force people to go to the government for the records. No purchasing of data for the purchase of redistribution for profit. Speaking of which, that is a weird business model. The companies buy free info so they can resell it to companies to lazy to research info themselves.

jck
jck

In all 50 states, court records (unless sealed) are a matter of public record.

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