- Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
Media Contact for AG Healey Cites Employers for Violating State CORI Law in Hiring Practices
Boston — Attorney General Maura Healey today announced her office has reached agreements with four national employers, and has issued warning letters to 17 other Boston area businesses found to be in violation of a state law prohibiting employers from asking about criminal record information on an initial job application.
“Jobs are the pathway to economic security and building a better life,” said AG Healey. “But unfortunately, many of our residents with criminal records face barriers to securing employment. These actions are an effort to give all job applicants a fair chance.”
In 2010, the state enacted a law to reform its criminal offender record information (CORI) system that included a provision, known as “ban the box,” prohibiting most employers from asking job applicants about a criminal history on an initial employment application. Prior to the passage of the law, applicants who revealed a criminal history by checking a box on the application were often categorically excluded by employers in the initial hiring phase. The legislation aimed at addressing high unemployment and barriers to reintegration by improving access to employment for those with criminal records. These barriers are a particular challenge in communities of color where residents are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system.
AG Healey’s Office conducted an investigation into employer compliance with the state’s “ban the box” law. Through its investigation of a sampling of Boston and Cambridge employers, the AG’s Office identified 21 businesses that were violating the law by asking job applicants on their initial application if they have a criminal record.
“We applaud the AG Healey’s actions because without this kind of monitoring and enforcement, countless people with CORIs are shut out of the economy and trapped in a cycle of poverty, joblessness and too often, hopelessness,” said Pauline Quirion, Director of the CORI & Re-entry Project at Greater Boston Legal Services. “If employers have to wait until after the interview to get the CORI, it means that people with a criminal record have an actual chance at getting the job.”
“The clients that we serve have paid their debt to society and should be able to pursue meaningful employment without fear of being punished over and over again,” said Ed Powell, Executive Director of STRIVE, a program of the Justice Resource Institute. “Kudos to Attorney General Healey and her office for recognizing this and taking the appropriate action.”
The AG’s Office reached agreements with four national employers that each have multiple store locations in Massachusetts. Under the agreements, three companies—Edible Arrangements, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and L’Occitane—are required to take steps to come into compliance with the law and to pay $5,000. The agreements with Five Guys and Edible Arrangements are with local franchisees and the agreement with L’Occitane is with national ownership. A fourth company, The Walking Company, which recently filed for bankruptcy, has agreed to take steps to comply with the law. After identifying that these four large employers were in violation of the law, the AG’s Office worked with them to enter into these agreements.
The AG’s Office also sent letters to 17 local businesses warning them that they must take immediate action to comply with Massachusetts law. The 17 businesses are in Boston’s Downtown Crossing and Back Bay neighborhoods as well as Cambridge’s Central, Harvard, and Kendall Square neighborhoods. The businesses are Brattle Book Shop, Kingston Grille and Bar, Salvatore’s, Sidebar, Stoddard’s Food & Ale, The Chicken and Rice Guys (two locations), The Oceanaire Seafood Room, Tous Les Jours, Viga Italian Eatery and Catering, Love Culture, and Frette, all in Boston, as well The Middle East Restaurant, Mainely Burgers, Mexicali Burrito Co., Café ArtScience, Meadhall, and Grafton Street Pub & Grill in Cambridge.
These employers were all violating the law by asking questions on their initial job applications about applicants’ criminal histories. These questions included whether applicants have been convicted of violating the law, whether they have been convicted of a crime or offense other than a minor traffic violation, and if they have ever been convicted of a felony.
State law generally prohibits most employers from asking job applicants about the following at any stage of the hiring process: criminal cases that did not end in a conviction; an arrest or detention that did not end in a conviction; a first conviction for drunkenness, simple assault, speeding, disturbance of the peace, affray or minor traffic violations; misdemeanor convictions that are more than five years old; sealed criminal records; and juvenile records.
Today’s actions are part of a larger ongoing effort by AG Healey and her Civil Rights Division to educate residents and businesses about the law and to ensure that a person’s CORI is not used improperly to deny access to housing and employment. Last year, the AG’s Office published “Know Your Rights – Criminal Records: A Guide to Rights to Housing and Employment.” In July 2015, AG Healey successfully advocated for the elimination of a law that required the mandatory suspension of a person’s driver’s license after a drug conviction. The AG’s Office was also supportive of reforms to the CORI law in the new criminal justice reform legislation.
The AG’s Office encourages individuals who feel they have been unfairly or unlawfully denied employment or housing to contact its Civil Rights Division at (617) 963-2917.
This initiative was led by Assistant Attorney General D’Andre Fernandez of AG Healey’s Civil Rights Division, with assistance from Division Chief Genevieve Nadeau, as well as Investigator Kristen Salera of AG Healey’s Civil Investigations Division.