Class action targets criminal history screening policies that reject qualified job applicants
Walmart, the nation's largest private employer, hires thousands of new workers across the U.S. each year. But according to a lawsuit recently filed by Outten & Golden LLP and Youth Represent, the retail giant also rejects many qualified applicants because of their criminal histories – part of a uniform hiring policy that disparately impacts Black and Latinx candidates in violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
In collaboration with legal advocacy nonprofit Youth Represent, Outten & Golden filed a 19-page complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. The pleadings alleged that lead plaintiff Jacqueline Ramos and similarly situated individuals applied for and were denied employment due to Walmart's centrally administrated criminal history screening process. The class action lawsuit claims that Walmart's overly broad background checks fail to assess if applicants' convictions are job-related or consistent with business necessity and ignore evidence of rehabilitation and mitigating circumstances.
Outten & Golden partner Ossai Miazad said, "Criminal history screening policies that are unjustifiably restrictive and overbroad not only serve as unnecessary barriers to gainful employment for individuals like our clients, but they transport the racial disparities in the criminal justice system into the workplace and have lasting consequences for entire communities."
Ms. Ramos's ordeal sheds light on the stigma of a candidate's criminal past, regardless of whether the history has any bearing on the candidate's ability to succeed in a position. After a six-month internship with a Walmart subsidiary and with her supervisor's encouragement, Ms. Ramos applied for an entry-level position at Walmart. The company formally offered her a position shortly after her interview, and Ms. Ramos consented to a third-party criminal history screening. She explained that she had focused on securing employment since her conviction and participated in a workforce development program that led to her internship. Despite her relevant work experience, Walmart rescinded the job offer due to her criminal history.
On Sept. 23, 2021, attorneys for the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, adding a second lead plaintiff, Edwin Johnson, whose experience paralleled Ms. Ramos's.
In 2020, Mr. Johnson applied for an entry-level stocking position at Walmart. At his interview, he was offered a job on the spot. He was informed that his background check had cleared during his orientation, and he could start working for Walmart immediately. But Walmart later backtracked, informing Mr. Johnson that he was ineligible for employment with the company because of his criminal history.
Michael Pope, Executive Director of Youth Represent, said, "Walmart has an opportunity to demonstrate how their public commitment to racial equity and criminal justice reform is more than a PR statement. Black Americans are disproportionately harmed by the criminal legal system and Walmart can be a leader in mitigating against this harm rather than compounding it."
Outten & Golden partner Christopher M. McNerney said, "Denying employment for qualified candidates left Ms. Ramos and Mr. Johnson in a terrible position. Walmart lost out on two incredible, passionate and committed employees."
The case is "Jacqueline Ramos, et al., v. Walmart, Inc.," Case No. 2:21-cv-13827-CCC-AME in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.
CONTACTS: Ossai Miazad, Christopher M. McNernery or Pooja Shethji at 516-261-6080 or @email.
About Outten & Golden LLP
Outten & Golden LLP focuses on advising and representing individuals in employment, partnership, and related workplace matters both domestically and internationally. The firm counsels individuals on employment and severance agreements; handles complex compensation and benefits issues (including bonuses, equity agreements, and partnership interests); and advises professionals (including doctors and lawyers) on contractual issues. It also represents employees with a wide variety of claims, including discrimination and harassment based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, race, disability, national origin, religion, and age, as well as retaliation, whistleblower, and contract claims. The firm handles class actions involving a wide range of employment issues, including economic exploitation, gender- and race-based discrimination, wage-and-hour violations, violations of the WARN Act, and other systemic workers' rights issues.
Outten & Golden has nine practice groups: Executives & Professionals, Financial Services, Sexual Harassment & Sex Discrimination, Family Responsibilities & Disability Discrimination, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer (LGBTQ) Workplace Rights, Discrimination & Retaliation, Whistleblower Retaliation, Class & Collective Actions, and WARN Act.
Outten & Golden has offices in New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
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