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New York Court of Appeals Clarifies Who’s Responsible for Discriminatory Hiring Based on Criminal History

Criminal History

Under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), employers are prohibited from discriminating based on criminal history, and any entities associated with employers that violate the NYSHRL can also be held liable, but only for aiding and abetting a violation of the law.

This legal clarification comes as a result of the Court’s ruling in the matter of Griffin v. Sirva, Inc. In the case, Astro Moving & Storage Co. was a contractor for Allied Van Lines. The plaintiffs were directly employed by Astro, but were previously convicted of sex crimes with minors. This disqualified them from working with Allied, and Astro subsequently fired them because they could not fulfill their duties with Allied. The plaintiffs claimed discrimination due to their criminal histories, and sued Astro, Allied, and Sirva, Inc. — Allied’s parent company.

The New York Court of Appeals had three key legal questions it needed to address:

1. Is Section 296(15) of the NYSHRL, which expressly prohibits discrimination against individuals with prior criminal convictions, limited to a party’s “employer”?

2. If so, is an “employer” only a direct employer, or does the protection extend to associated entities?

3. Does section 296(6), which provides for aiding and abetting liability, impose liability on out-of-state entities that are connected to in-state employers?

In considering the key questions of the case, The Court found that, in addition to direct employers who are covered by Section 296(15), non-employers (even if out-of-state) may be bound by the NYSHRL’s guidelines as it relates to aiding and abetting. Ultimately, the consequences of the decision in Griffin v. Sirva, Inc.  extend far beyond direct employers — and even the State of New York.

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