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Lawsuit Claims Background Check Error Ruined Reputation

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - A Minnesota mother blames a background check mistake for ruining her reputation.

The trouble started for Lorie Wosmek after she'd spent years volunteering in the Remer School District.

She lost that position when a background check confused her for a convicted felon.

Now, Wosmek hopes a lawsuit will clear her name.

The feelings of isolation seem to only deepen for a woman fighting to get back what she once had.

"Two years ago, life was perfect," Wosmek said.

Wosmek had spent the last few years volunteering in her two sons' classrooms in Remer and coaching one of their football teams.

"They called me constantly to help out," Wosmek said.

Wosmek had submitted background checks to the school district before. She did again May of 2012. But by fall, she said, people started to treat her differently.

"Parents acted strange," she said. "People who said 'hi' to me before wouldn't say 'hi' anymore."

Finally, on a school field trip, she was told she was no longer an approved volunteer. A letter that came later from the school district with a copy of her background check would explain why.

"All I saw on there was homicide," she said. "I burst into tears."

The company that did Wosmek's background check for the district said she'd committed criminal vehicular homicide.

"Oh, my gosh this isn't me," she said.

She says the company not only got it wrong but district employees spread the information for five months. It's an accusation the school district denies.

"If I had gotten a letter at that point and been notified, I could have stopped it right then and there," Wosmek said.

Chris Uggen is a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota.

"It's fairly common to have inaccuracies," he said. "This seems to be a particular egregious case."

Uggen said that as the online revolution grows, so does the room for errors. One study found 600,000 Americans are denied a job each year based on a bad background check.

"We've had this radical expansion of the number of people with criminal records over the last 40 years," Uggen said. "The other trend though is this radical change in the amount of information we have available about one another."

Wosmek is now suing the school district and the background check company that made the mistake.

She says she hasn't been welcomed back as a volunteer since, and the damage to her reputation has already been done.

"When people hear good news like 'she didn't commit the crime,' they don't tend to spread that around," Wosmek said.

The McDowell Agency of St. Paul performed Wosmek's background check. In court filings, the company admits the vehicular homicide conviction was a mistake.

In a statement, a spokesperson said, "We believe the evidence will support our position that Ms. Wosmek's reputation was not impacted or harmed by anything we did."

In court filings, the district denies not welcoming Wosmek back as a volunteer.

The district no longer uses The McDowell Agency to perform background checks.

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