Feb 9, 2024

The California Civil Rights Department recently accused a major grocery company of violating the state’s law. According to the complaint, the company asked applicants if they had criminal records and rejected over 1,000. The Civil Rights Department remarked that this is the first suit of this type that it has filed since the law concerning criminal records took effect.

Director’s Statement

The department’s director made a statement to announce the lawsuit. In it, he stated that approximately 70 million Americans have a criminal record. As such, policies that discriminate against such people violate California law, do not make sense, and will result in lawsuits. The director included the grocery company’s suit as an example of such action. Allegedly, the grocery company illegally denied jobs to candidates with criminal records who were otherwise qualified. For this reason, the department is “taking them to court.” The lawsuit accused the grocery company of violating the Fair Chance Act.

Act Requirements

The Fair Chance Act took effect in 2018 despite opposition from businesses. However, the significant support from civil rights groups and law groups helped push it forward. The law affects employers with five or more employees. It bans them from asking about a job applicant’s criminal history before making a conditional offer of employment.

Employers may request a criminal background report after making a conditional offer of employment. This process also opens them to the option of rescinding the offer if the individual committed crimes related to the applied-for position. However, the employer cannot consider felony convictions older than seven years or misdemeanor convictions older than three. 

The employer must allow time for the applicant to respond, in writing, to the decision. Employers must consider the written answer before taking final action. In this case, the grocery company used the same job application as the grocery chain that owns it. This application does ask about applicants’ criminal records. 

The Application

The application states that California applicants do not need to disclose their criminal records. However, a following section discussed how applicants should not disclose overturned or sealed convictions. According to the lawsuit, this suggests that applicants should report convictions that were not sealed or overturned.

The suit also claimed that the grocery company did not describe what types of convictions disqualified applicants from employment or their right to object. Allegedly, the grocery company also improperly withdrew offers of employment over past convictions. For example, they denied applicants with past misdemeanor convictions for possessing marijuana in a state where it is illegal. They also rejected those with misdemeanors for excessive noise.

The Civil Rights Department’s lawyers commented on the correlation between these convictions and grocery store jobs. They claimed such records had no direct or adverse relationship with the job duties of these positions. For example, such records would not impact a grocery clerk. They cited this example because most denied applications over criminal records concerning this position.

Information provided here is for educational and informational purposes only and should not constitute as legal advice. We recommend you contact your own legal counsel for any questions regarding your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.