Wal-Mart Can’t Automatically Disqualify Applicants With Felony Convictions, ACLU Says

December 22, 2009

In a letter to Wal-Mart Stores today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan expressed concern over reports that applicants at Wal-Mart’s new store in Pittsfield Township with felony convictions are automatically removed from the selection process. The ACLU learned these applicants are disqualified no matter how old the conviction is, the nature of the crime committed or whether the conviction has any connection to the job the applicant seeks.

“The blanket exclusion of ex-felons from employment without regard to qualifications or the possibility of rehabilitation punishes individuals who have already done their time and are trying to become productive members of society,” said Jessie Rossman, ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney. “We cannot afford to turn a past felony conviction into a life sentence of unemployment and poverty. Everyone benefits when ex-offenders are given the tools to succeed upon release.”

In its three-page letter, the ACLU of Michigan along with the national ACLU’s Racial Justice Program and Women’s Rights Project, asked the country’s largest private employer to either clarify any misinformation or to work with the organization to amend the policy so that it complies with federal law.

According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 an employer may not directly or indirectly refuse to hire an individual based on her race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Therefore, the ACLU explained, that since black and Hispanic individuals are convicted at rates disproportionately greater than their representation in the population, the stores reported hiring practice discriminates against people of color. In addition, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has held that similar policies are discriminatory, and has concluded that there is no business necessity for such an absolute ban.

The ACLU wrote: “It is clear that a policy…would have a racially disparate impact on African Americans living in Pittsfield Township: 60 percent of prisoners who return to Washtenaw County are African American, as compared to 37 percent who are white.”

“We’re not asking employers to take unreasonable risks. We’re just saying that an individual who has a 30-year-old felony for an unrelated crime has the right to prove her qualifications and skills in the application process just like everyone else,” said Rossman.

The ACLU of Michigan’s letter was signed by Rossman, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg, Dennis D. Parker of the national ACLU’s Racial Justice Program and Lenora Lapidus and Ariela Migdal of the national ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.

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