Increasing Employment Opportunities for Pennsylvanians with Criminal Histories

Update

Highly qualified job applicant files suit against Montgomery County after being denied employment due to her old, irrelevant criminal record

Montgomery County Courthouse
Montgomery County Courthouse

March 28, 2019 – Job seekers with criminal records are often punished twice: first by the criminal justice system, and then by employer discrimination that shuts them out of jobs they’re well qualified for, years after they’ve turned their lives around. Our client, a 56-year-old woman with an impeccable work history and years of experience in social services, was turned away from two caseworker positions with Montgomery County after the hiring process was well underway—in one instance, after a start date was set—when the County learned she had two old misdemeanors in her past, despite the fact that misdemeanors took place 8 and 10 years ago and were completely unrelated to the position. The Public Interest Law Center and Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock & Dodig, LLP filed a complaint in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas on March 25, alleging that the County has a policy and practice of violating Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA).

“Our client was well-qualified to serve as a caseworker for Montgomery County – and the County agreed,” said Public Interest Law Center staff attorney Claudia De Palma. “For the County to nevertheless bar her from employment based on old convictions that have nothing to do with her suitability for the job is not only unfair, it is unlawful. We hope that this case will lead more employers to adhere to the laws that protect job applicants like our client from discrimination based on mistakes that they have long-since paid for.”

“An insignificant misdemeanor should not disqualify someone like our client from employment so many years later,” co-counsel Peter M. Newman, a partner at Feldman Shepherd, added, “particularly where her resume and references demonstrate that she turned her life around and obtained a college degree. We must break down barriers faced by people with convictions in their past.”

“We hope that this case will lead more employers to adhere to the laws that protect job applicants like our client from discrimination based on mistakes that they have long-since paid for.”

Read the complaint here.

Montgomery County is the eighth largest employer in the third-most populous county in Pennsylvania and is a major provider of social services. In May 2018, our client applied for a full-time caseworker position with the County’s Office of Children and Youth (MCOCY). After a successful interview where she explained her extensive qualifications – which include a psychology degree, a certification in drug and alcohol counseling, and experience as a case manager for families of children with severe social, emotional and behavioral disorders – our client was invited to move forward to the final stage of the hiring process.

In an effort to be upfront, our client sent her criminal background check to MCOCY’s hiring manager, explaining that she had two old misdemeanors as a result of a past struggle with alcoholism: a 2008 conviction for unlawful possession of retail merchandise and a 2010 DUI. She also explained that she has been sober for many years and in long-term recovery, and provided a letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services demonstrating that her record did not prohibit hire for the position. Nonetheless, a week later the hiring manager informed our client that her record “wasn’t helping” and that she was not going to be hired because “no one in MCOCY has a criminal record.”

Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA) prohibits employers from considering convictions in hiring decisions unless they relate to the applicants’ ability to perform in the job. Our client’s convictions, which are a decade old and the byproduct of an illness from which she has since recovered, have no bearing on her ability to succeed, especially in light of her proven track record working in the field.

In November 2018, our client applied for another caseworker position with Montgomery County’s Office of Aging and Adult Services (MCAAS). After another successful interview, our client received a written job offer informing her of her start date and asking her to submit her background check. But three days after she submitted her record – and despite the fact that MCAAS had repeatedly assured her the position was permanent and fully funded – our client received a letter informing her that the position had been “retracted” because it was “not required at this time.”

“It’s clear that Montgomery County has failed to give our client the fair consideration she deserved,” De Palma said. “Through this case, we are seeking justice for our client, holding the County accountable, and reminding employers throughout Pennsylvania that these laws matter to the thousands of applicants with unrelated records seeking to move forward with their lives and careers.”

Job seekers with criminal records face enormous challenges. A 2002 survey showed that 60 percent of employers probably would not hire someone with any sort of criminal record. Read more about bias against job seekers with criminal records in this March 25, 2019 Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed by Claudia De Palma.