What is FAIR and what is LEGAL are not always the same, and this is the case in any number of employment law issues. Many ask whether "at will" employment, which is the law in 49 and 1/2 states, is "fair" at all. "Fair" almost always depends on whose perspective is used as the measure -- i.e., employer or employee?
But equally important, I think, is the fact that statutory and regulatory legal protections often turn or rest on very fine and "technical" distinctions. Here, for example, almost certainly there was not completed the elements of a contract (offer, acceptance, consideration), although to your eyes, you seem to have assumed that you enjoyed the benefits and protections of contract law. Once you understand that a legal contract had not yet been achieved, is the situation "unfair?"
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Unfortunately, there is in employment law often a difference between unfair and illegal.
Your potential employer has the right to terminate your employment at anytime, except if the decision is motivated by discrimination against a protected class such as gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, military service, disability, etc. or opposing illegal conduct. Here, no facts are presented supporting such improper motivations. There is no law against merely bad management.
I agree with my colleagues that the right question is whether their actions are illegal, not whether they are fair. Here, the paralegal and the managing partner both told you that there was a problem with the background check. As you seem to be aware, the Fair Credit Reporting Act has stringent requirements for what a company must do in order to deny you a job on the basis of a background check. Although they denied having done it later, the fact that two people told you that one had been done is good evidence that in fact a background check was performed.
Moreover, from what you said, you were actually offered the job, and it was later taken away. If it was on the basis of the background check, they were required to follow the FCRA requirements, which they did not do here.
The problem, of course, will be one of proof. It will be up to you to prove (1) that you were actually offered the job, and (2) that the offer was withdrawn on the basis of the background check. With them having denied even doing one, the second part will be particularly difficult.
I hope this information is helpful to you.
Craig T. Byrnes
Disclaimer: Please be aware that I am not offering legal advice, nor forming an attorney-client relationship with you. I am not representing you, nor doing anything to protect your legal rights. If you believe that you have suffered a legal wrong, take action before any statute or limitations expires, or your right to do so may be lost forever. Good luck in your legal matter.