Macy’s sued for denying jobs to people with criminal records

The Fortune Society wants one of the country’s largest retailers to reevaluate its policies for job applicants and employees with criminal histories.

The nonprofit organization, which helps the formerly incarcerated re-enter society, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Macy’s Inc. claiming it had rejected job applicants, revoked job offers and terminated the employment of people with criminal histories.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jenetta Rolfer, a 36-year-old black woman living in St. Paul, Minn., whose employment as a credit-granting representative at a Macy’s call center was rescinded after the retailer uncovered a misdemeanor conviction for public nuisance.

According to the lawsuit, Rolfer’s 10-year-old offense stemmed from her inability to produce proof of car insurance at a traffic incident.

Rolfer said the retailer had not provided her with a copy of the background report it was relying on before it rescinded its job offer.

The Fortune Society alleges that Macy’s strict policies and practices reinforce racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, and disparately impact black and Latino applicants and employees. It is seeking to develop a class-action lawsuit.

The society also claims Macy’s screening policies violate the New York City Human Rights Law, which prohibits “an employer from denying employment to any person by virtue of their criminal record.” Employers can deny employment only if they can demonstrate that there is a direct relationship between the past criminal offense and the employment or that the granting or continuation of employment involves unreasonable risk to property, safety or welfare of specific individuals.

In a statement, Shawn Outler, chief diversity officer at Macy’s, said all credit and customer-service employees, as well as some support roles, are required to complete third-party background screening.

“For all other job functions, we are consistent in our approach to the consideration of criminal history in adherence with EEOC guidelines, as well as applicable local and state laws, and consider, among other things, the requirements of the job, the amount of time that has elapsed and the nature of any offenses,” Outler said.

Rolfer filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that is still pending.