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Walmart accused of bias against workers with criminal histories

4 minute read

Walmart's logo is seen outside one of the stores in Chicago, Illinois. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

  • Policy has disparate impact on Black, Latino applicants
  • Amazon, Macy's, Uber among others that have faced similar claims

(Reuters) - Walmart Inc has been hit with a proposed nationwide class action claiming the nation's largest employer discriminates against Black and Latino job applicants through a strict background check policy that fails to consider rehabilitation and other mitigating circumstances.

Jacqueline Ramos, who says she was turned down for an IT support job with Walmart because of a prior felony conviction, filed a complaint in New Jersey federal court on Monday claiming the company's policy violates state and federal law because it is not "job-related and consistent with business necessity."

Instead, Arkansas-based Walmart has a centralized policy of denying jobs to applicants with criminal histories, regardless of how much time has passed or the steps individuals have taken to rehabilitate, said Ramos, who is represented by Outten & Golden.

And that has a disparate impact on Black and Latino people, who are significantly more likely to have criminal convictions than white job applicants, according to the complaint.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove in a statement said the company uses an "individual circumstance" review process to determine whether applicants' criminal histories would have any bearing on the jobs they seek.

"We applied that process to Ms. Ramos and determined the job she applied for was necessarily related to her felony conviction," he said.

Hargrove also said that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reviewed a complaint filed by Ramos and dismissed her claims.

The case is the latest in a string of race bias lawsuits filed in recent years involving employers' criminal background check policies. Amazon, Macy's, Uber and Wells Fargo are among the large companies that have been accused of refusing to hire or of firing Black and Latino workers with criminal convictions.

All of those companies have denied wrongdoing.

According to Monday's complaint, Ramos in early 2020 completed a six-month internship with Jet.com, an online shopping site owned by Walmart that is now defunct, and was encouraged to apply for an IT support job with Walmart.

Walmart offered Ramos a job but rescinded the offer two weeks later after the company reviewed her criminal history, which revealed a three-year-old felony conviction.

Ramos said she attempted to explain the circumstances surrounding the conviction, including that she was with friends who committed the crime in question and that she took a plea deal to avoid receiving a prison sentence.

She said that after her conviction she enrolled in a workforce development program and that she planned to pursue a bachelor's degree in computer science.

But Walmart was unmoved, telling Ramos in June 2020 that she had “provided no evidence of rehabilitation efforts or mitigating circumstances” and that it would not revisit its denial of employment, according to the complaint.

Ramos claims Walmart's policies amount to race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a comparable New Jersey law. She is seeking to represent nationwide and New Jersey-wide classes of Black and Latino people who were turned down for jobs by Walmart because of their criminal records.

The case is Ramos v. Walmart Inc, U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, No. 2:21-cv-13827.

For Ramos: Gregory Chiarello of Outten & Golden, Michael Pope of Youth Represent

For Walmart: Not available

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.

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