Philadelphia Employment Law News

Ex-Priest Accused of Molestation Now a Philly TSA Screener

Does a child molestation accusation suffice to remove a person from his current job?

The Transportation Security Administration says "no." This is in response to its hiring of a former priest who had been defrocked after allegedly molesting two girls, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The TSA didn't complete a background check before hiring ex-priest Thomas Harkins and allowing him to conduct pat-downs as a security officer at Philadelphia International Airport, the Inquirer reports.

Just what you want to hear as the holiday travel season approaches, eh?

And it's not as if the child-molestation accusations were well in the past. Thomas Harkins was defrocked by the Diocese of Camden, N.J., in 2002. Just four months later, he landed the TSA gig, according to the Inquirer.

While the TSA didn't complete a background check before hiring Harkins, it got the ball rolling on one. In 2003, as the background check was pending, the Diocese of Camden reported to the TSA that Harkins had been removed after accusations emerged that he had molested two young girls, reports ABC News. Harkins was never criminally charged, but there was a civil lawsuit against the Diocese.

Upon learning about the accusations, the TSA didn't remove him.

According to the TSA, an allegation alone isn't enough cause to dismiss Harkins. Even if Harkins had been criminally charged, an ordinary background check might not have entitled his employer to this information, absent the job applicant's consent.

But in this case, the TSA only knew about an accusation, and there was no clear finding of guilt. Also, keep in mind Harkins was hired back in 2002, not too long after the 9/11 attacks, when the TSA was under pressure to beef up airport security through mass hirings.

Had defrocked priest Thomas Harkins applied for a TSA job more recently, he might not have made it this far. The TSA now has stricter procedures for hiring, including the completion of a full background check.

Part of that background check includes the requirement of a positive evaluation from a previous employer.

The TSA tells the Inquirer that Harkins is in a different role now -- he's actually been promoted to oversee checked-baggage screening, and earns more than $75,000 a year. He has not been patting down travelers since 2004.

That will likely come as a relief to many.

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