April 22 (Bloomberg) -- Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. agreed to stop automatically rejecting job applicants with criminal records and to evaluate individual situations as New York’s attorney general expanded a crackdown on discrimination against ex-offenders.
Under New York law, employers are barred from disqualifying any prospective hire simply on the basis of a criminal history. Such blanket discrimination is illegal in several states and cities and may also violate federal civil rights law, according to the New York-based National Employment Law Project. A company can still look at the nature of a past crime and the responsibilities of a particular job in considering an applicant.
The household goods retailer, which operates more than 1,400 stores across the U.S. with 62 in New York, will pay a $125,000 in the settlement, including $40,000 in restitution to applicants unlawfully denied jobs, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office said.
“This agreement puts employers on notice that slamming the door on job seekers based on past conduct without deciding whether that conduct is relevant to the current job is not only wrong -– it’s unlawful,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
The attorney general’s office said it investigated the retailer after learning that a human resources manager had disseminated information at a job fair stating that the company didn’t hire individuals with felony convictions. The company agreed to modify its practices in the state and conduct training to comply with New York law, Schneiderman’s office said.
The settlement doesn’t include an admission of wrongdoing, Leah Drill, a spokeswoman for the Union, New Jersey-based company, said in an e-mailed statement.
“Bed Bath & Beyond is committed to complying with the laws and regulations governing our business, including state and federal employment law,” she said. “We are in agreement with the attorney general that employment opportunities should remain open to individuals with criminal histories that have been rehabilitated.”
Federal agencies and New York have stepped up enforcement of protections for job-seekers with criminal histories, Madeline Neighly, staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project, said. The center estimates that 70 million U.S. adults have criminal records.
“Excluding anyone with a criminal history from employment undermines public safety,” Neighly said in an e-mail. “Employment is key to reducing recidivism and strengthening families and community involvement.”
Last month, Schneiderman’s office reached settlements with four of the country’s largest job applicant background check companies, HireRight Inc., First Advantage, General Information Services Inc. and Sterling Infosystems, in which they agreed not to issue automatic rejection letters when convictions were identified and to defer to individual assessment from employers.
Quest Diagnostics Inc., one of the world’s largest providers of diagnostic testing, agreed last year to reform its hiring practices under a deal with Schneiderman’s office. Oswego, New York, also agreed last year to modify a local ban on individuals with felony convictions from obtaining taxi licenses, according to the attorney general’s office.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Dolgencorp LLC, which does business as Dollar General, and BMW Manufacturing Co. in 2013 alleging that their criminal background policies for employees and job applicants violated federal civil rights law by disproportionately targeting black job seekers.
Dolgencorp and BMW said in court filings that they didn’t engage in unlawful hiring practices. The cases are pending in federal courts in Chicago and Spartanburg, South Carolina, respectively.
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