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Latest Civil Rights – Equal Employment Rights for Felons

March 23, 2011

In 2008, Johnny Magee, who is developmentally disabled, was laid off from his landscaping job in Livermore, California, thanks to government budget cuts. He applied for a new position as a garden center attendant at a nearby Lowe’s Home Improvement store. Despite his prior experience, Magee wasn’t hired. Why? A background check had turned up a 1999 misdemeanor conviction, stemming from an incident in which he unknowingly picked up a package for his uncle that contained drugs. Later that year, Magee’s conviction was dismissed—but that was too late for him to get the job at Lowe’s.

Sixty-five million Americans—or one in four adults—have a criminal record. But employers—including major companies like Bank of America, Omni Hotel, and Domino’s Pizza—routinely post job ads on Craigslist that explicitly exclude such applicants, according to a new report conducted by the National Employment Law Center (NELP), a labor-affiliated advocacy group.

The practice appears in some cases to be against the law, and at a time of record long-term joblessness, advocates for the poor say it places yet another obstacle in front of people like Magee, who are working to get their life back on track. In addition, there’s widespread agreement that helping those with criminal records to find stable employment is crucial for preventing recidivism and preventing future crime. Indeed, that’s the reason that the government runs programs designed to make it easier for ex-offenders to find work.

Perhaps most important, effectively making more than one quarter of the American workforce unemployable may be an unsustainable policy for the economy as whole.

“Candidates must be able to pass: background check (no felonies or misdemeanors),” reads one ad placed by the bailed-out banking giant Bank of America. “Do not apply with any misdemeanors/felonies,” warns another. And one study last year found that 92 percent of employers said they screen some or all applicants for criminal records.

Many employers use outside companies that specialize in background checks—a fast-growing industry—to help screen out applicants with criminal records. A 2009 investigation by the state of New York found that RadioShack, working with the background check firm ChoicePoint, created a system that asked applicants  “Have you been convicted of a felony in the past 7 years?” and automatically rejected anyone who answered “yes.”

Because discriminating against those with criminal records disproportionately hurts African Americans, the practice may violate the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits race-based hiring discrimination. Indeed, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has said that although considering an applicant’s criminal record may be acceptable on a case-by-case basis, an “absolute bar to employment” for such people is illegal.

Last year, plaintiffs brought at least five major civil rights lawsuits against large employers on the issue, but the National Employment Law Project wants the EEOC to enforce the law more vigorously. A spokeswoman for the agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Lookout.

Still, the practice looks likely to grow only more common: Thanks to the tight labor market—there are currently five unemployed workers for every job opening—employers can be especially choosy about who they hire. Indeed, as we’ve reported, the EEOC is currently looking into another problem with similar roots: hiring discrimination against the unemployed.

  1. wallace dimick permalink

    any one that asked if some one else has a felony for a job aught to be charged with a felony
    and put in the same situtation. ex-felons need to feed there families to and these people are just increasing the crime rate by not hireing felons to this is discrimination and our gov. is not doing any thing about it all because prison is big business

  2. Garett Mcclinton permalink

    I’m an Ex Marine who served in both Afghan and Iraq. I have an honorable discharge from the armed forces, graduated from a military school. I have a felon on my record from back in 2002, which was an accident by nature. I’ve tried and tried to find meaningful employment, but I keep getting rejected because of the felon on my record. We need to do something aout this, because I served my time, as many others have done. Why should we continue to be punished? I have a wife and two kids to take care of, Plus I’m working towards a degree and certification in Computer science and Cisco Networking Professional, on top of 3 years experience. I’ve learned in the past 3 years since i’ve been home from prison, Credentials and ability to do the job means nothing if your Record has a felony on it.. I don’t know what to do or where to go for help regarding this matter. Where do we turn when the Government COMPLETELY IGNORES A CRIME AS GREAT AS THIS?.. Where do we begin to fight for change?

    • Wayne permalink

      We should organize a protest. But…. maybe not… people still on probation or parole are not allowed to assemble. They call that association. However, we have lost our right to assemble peacably.

      If we can’t vote we are victims of taxation without representation. (If we are lucky enough to have a job.

      I will be one of the few Doctorate degree holders that have to do telemarketing work for 10.00/HR.

      I guess we don’t deserve to protect our homes in most states we cannot bear arms.

      We are pretty much screwed… forever. It’s a shame.

      If oour state, federal , and local governments won’t hire us how can they expect private companies to hire us.

      They should stop telling taxpayers that they are rehabilitating us. Our system is purely punitive.

      Does the punishment fit the crime when you can never again earn a decent living. Having a criminal history is a lifelong sentence.

  3. I feel the same way you do on the situation. I was one of few who was blessed to be hired after searching for 2 years. . The only way to be heard is to have the financial support behind your cause. And many of the people in this situation do not have the financial means for the cause to be noticed. Its a civil rights violation. Being barred from employment opportunities, government assistance, apartments etc. Thats why so many return to the prison system.

  4. Claudia Rodriguez permalink

    What about Discrimination against a person with a Felony record over ten years old whom has served his/her time to society and well or over qualified for a position at hand that is open and avialable?
    I have worked for the State of Texas with a felony record but yet can not work for any Robert Half’s clients? and the recruiter’s reason was because they are a Fortune 500 company and how would it look if they send someone with a FELONY?,
    I applied for HR position and was well qualified and even accepted a lower pay rate.
    To me that is discrimination… The question here is “Dont you think it is DISCRIMINITORY?”

  5. Not Perfect permalink

    Hello, This is to my fellow felones there is a way to change this and the only way is to fight as one. I have an idea that I think would work. Would need advise of someone who is more skilled in the area. If you would like more info on this please e-mail me at Thank you.

  6. Anthony Burke permalink

    I hear all of you, companys will hire a person that can’t even speck english to work at jack in the box. will not hire someone with a felone.
    This is how i see it. Just becasue a person passes a background check dont mean that they are not or have not commited a crime. it just show that they have not got cought yet. I have see on tv here in AZ of teachers that passed a background check and then get cought with child porn. just shows you again that background check mean nothing.

  7. Why is it that title VII only deals with the possible discrimination of felons of colors other than white? I agree with everything that has been posted, but I don’t know how to fight back. I have felony’s on my record from 30 to 40 years ago. I was guilty for those convictions. I did raise allot of hell back then. However, I got clean and sober, got my GED, and went to school. I completed graduate school in 1995. In 2009, I had to plead guilty of theft by deception. I’m really innocent of that charge, but that is a long story. The bottom line is that because of mulitiple felony’s I can’t find a job. Recenly, I completed truck driving school, and passed the FBI, Homeland security and TSA background checks, and granted permission to obtain my HAZMAT endorsements, but can’t find a job because of my background.

    I will help in anyway I can to address this problem. I may never be allowed to return to work, but I will do what I can to help others.

  8. MrBoston permalink

    I personally am at the end of my trying to pretend anything will change before i hit retirement age, and am either homeless, of still begging for dead end jobs when i’m in my 70’s. I am a none violent, none drug related, nor theft , robbery or any type of harmful to humans or property etc. I had a gun possession charge 23 years ago, class e felony, and child support class e felony for failure to pay for 120 days or more in 2008. The child support charge was my first ever, and came about when i was out of work for over a year. They wanted money to reduce it to a misdemeanor, but i was broke, so they gave me a low class felony instead. Looking back on this stuff, i clearly see i was run over buy a speeding train because of pre perceptions of black men, and child support. it’s funny because my son’s mom hasn’t had a job for a decade plus, and had pretty much abandoned my son, as he lives with me 99% of the year for the last 7 years, LOL. Anyway, i don’t know about you all, but i am at the point where i am think bad thoughts, and darkness invades my thoughts regularly when i think of what is coming for me when i get retirement age . I am going back to school this January for a degree in engineering, but with these felonies, i see no hope because every job i have studied has a clause directly concerning backgrounds, as nearly all employers have these days. My dad was a trucker for 45 years, and i wanted to follow that path, but when i got my commercial drivers license, no one would hire me because of these none violent, none sexual, none theft, none domestic violence felonies, but an old former associate i knew, took a guy out to the woods and with the intentions of killing him, and crushed his scull with a cinder block, and left him for dead. He’s out of prison after just 7 short years, and makes good money, but after all, this was a blonde haired blued eyed white dude, and we all know that it’s better to be a white felon than black all day long in Wisconsin, and abroad. When you are my age, you don’t have time to wait for laws to change and all this crap! I deserve to give my children a good life threw my hard work on a decent job, simply. Being a felon hasn’t a damn thing to do with ensuring my families survival. Nothing i have done in my past would ever affect my work ethics, or the way i do my job, simply. I could see employers thinking twice if i had drug convictions, sexual assaults, and other violent crimes, but i have never had any of these convictions EVER!
    This is problem more about race then anything when we’re talking about Wisconsin, where i live. a felony is just a sure fire way to move aside any black people that apply if they have one on their record, and it could simply be a child support case like i have, but as long as the word felony is attached, they have all they need to pass you over despite a degree or any experience you may have.At my age, i haven’t much time left before i hit retirement age in 25 years when i am 70. How do you think i am supposed to survive if despite my schooling, and experience, i am still denied a job to support my family and myself like a tax paying American citizen? Let’s be clear,i will do what ever it takes to survive, let’s get that out front. #2, i am prepared to DIE in the process if it will ensure my family will have a shot at survival where my country and it’s racist laws failed me. we all know there are disproportionately more black people that are in this sinking ship then there ever will be white folks, that’s just the way it is. I am a decent law biding person as of now, and i am working harder then a cat trying to bury a turd in a marble floor, in order to further my education at 45 years of age, so i can strengthen my odds despite the stat quot of America when it comes to making sure felons never have a fair shot at happiness ever again, nor a chance for simply being able to work their ass of and enjoy the fruits of hard labor, which i used to understand as the American dream. But long ago i discovered that the American dream is a game of luck first, and then hard work, and certainly not something anyone can do as people have led us to believe for a several century or more. The American dream was never meant for black in the first place when the term was coined, and we all know this as intelligent adults. It was a hard fought war that continues to this very day as this years election has shown. We have seen government officials riding the vote in order to reduce turn outs of black people and other none white voters. How is it nor possible for people to see the racism in that alone, i mean, forget about felons, YA KNOW? Governors are openly using they’re power to suppress black vote specifically, so what makes one think that shutting out none violent felons without a good cause is nothing more then a after thought? People that control the country are openly and racially keeping us at bay from realizing our own American dream which is separate from the white American dream obviously. Half this country is divided, and the racist banter from this past election brought forth the true thoughts of an overwhelming number of white people in this country, and a huge amount of these white folks are in elected office, and are in positions to dictate as they please. How scary is that for a black person, Latino, Muslim Etc. White folks don’t want to admit it, but this felon problem was created by a racial one that is going strong even with a black president.
    They post effigies of apes, monkeys, savages with our presidents face on them, so how would you not understand that racism is very much alive, and these days, back in the open. The over whelming majority of business owners in this country are white republicans, and they are pissed at the knock out punch they suffered this past election. It is human nature to seek vengeance, especially amount the elite in this country, think about it, and look at how retarded they acted during the election.All this insanity, and a billion dollars to LYNCH ONE SINGLE BLACK MAN! So by comparison, us lower class black men don’t, and never have stood a chance.

  9. tyrone permalink

  10. davi permalink

    Being black and being a felon has nothing to do with not getting a job, this issue applies to any and all convicted felons. Color isn’t the issue.

  11. dave permalink

    Be a white felon and try to get a job, it is just as hard, if not harder. You are more likely as a black man to get a job rather than being white. The reason is the company is afraid of being hit with a lawsuit for racial discrimination. There is an article posted about felony/racial rights, but not white people. Felony ‘white’ people are looked down on by our own people, it isn’t just a black thing. Thinking it is racism only causes more division among a United Nation.

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