Coming on the heels of a previous settlement with Party City and Bed Bath & Beyond, Buffalo-area Big Lots and Marshalls locations were punished by the New York State Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman. In a settlement with the retailers, Schneiderman handed down a total of $195,000 in fines and a requirement that the retails remove any questions about a person's criminal record from job applications used in the entire state.
The settlement breakdown put $100,000 of the fine on Big Lots and $95,000 of the fine on Marshalls. Both organizations also committed to step up their efforts to recruit candidates with criminal histories by working with non-profits that have expertise in training ex-cons for the work place. Big Lots has 64 stores in New York while Marshalls has 75.
Schneiderman pointed out that both Big Lots and Marshalls were found using standard applications that included questions about a person's criminal record in Buffalo, where the city has passed "Ban The Box" legislation, outlawing these types of questions. "Ban The Box" laws are aimed at stopping what is usually an automatic disqualification from efforts to find work. As Schneiderman pointed out, "Obtaining meaningful employment is often the most crucial step towards reducing the chances of recidivism among formerly incarcerated persons. That is why my office is committed to breaking down barriers that impede rehabilitation, especially those that prevent fair access to employment." To that end, New York City and Rochester have also implemented similar laws.
These laws are designed to give applicants a chance to at least interview with their potential employer. It gives the person a chance to show that their life has turned around for the better and that they deserve to have a shot at a new life. Emily NaPier, director of Justice Strategies for Community Alternatives, pointed out that "Qualified job applicants with prior convictions often find it difficult to get their foot in the door with prospective employers, denied even the opportunity to interview."
Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, Deputy Leader and Chair of the Housing and Buildings Committee also voiced support, stating "A past conviction should never prevent someone from being able to put food on the table or pay their rent. All New Yorkers benefit when people with criminal records are able to find jobs, and contribute to our communities. Corporations don't get to choose which laws they follow and I commend Attorney General Schneiderman for fighting to ensure companies 'ban the box'".
32BJ President Hector Figueroa was also happy to hear the news, saying "Good jobs can transform people's lives and this agreement will give more New Yorkers a fair chance at transforming their own. We welcome Attorney General Schneiderman's work to ensure that men and women with a conviction history have the opportunity to get a good job and a bright future. This is a key part of reforming our criminal justice system."
Adding to the praise, Todd Hobler, Vice President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, said "Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has once again taken a stand for what is reasonable and just by making sure that everyone has fair access to employment opportunities. Countless numbers of qualified workers have been automatically excluded from being considered for employment by criminal history screens on initial employment applications. Compliance with Ban The Box laws will not only improve opportunities for ex-offenders, but will also reduce recidivism. If an employer sits down and has a conversation with someone first, before rushing to judgment, doors will open for everyone."
"Many employers in New York State value the social and economic impact that hiring individuals with barriers have on our community," added Jeff Conrad, State Director of the Center for Employment Opportunities. He continued, adding that "we look forward to continuing our work with the private sector to ensure that opportunities exist for anyone who wants to work."
Assistant Attorney General Sandra Pullman and Ajai Saini of the Civil Rights Bureau were in charge of handling the case. The Civil Rights Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg.