Michael Pope appointed as Youth Represent’s new Executive Director.
Read a PDF of our statement here.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the law firm of Outten & Golden LLP (O&G), and Youth Represent (YR) filed a lawsuit today in the Southern District of New York against Macy’s, Inc. (Macy’s), challenging its use of an unnecessarily punitive criminal history screening policy. According to the lawsuit, the policy disproportionately disqualifies Black and Latinx applicants and employees from job opportunities in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the New York City Human Rights Law.
Plaintiffs, The Fortune Society, Inc. (Fortune) and Ms. Jenetta Rolfer, seek to change a screening policy that they allege results in a disproportionate number of otherwise qualified Black and Latinx job applicants and employees being denied employment or terminated due to their criminal background histories, including for minor or very old convictions that are unrelated to the positions at issue.
Fortune, a nonprofit community-based organization that supports successful community reentry, including job-training and placement services, alleges that hiring practices at Macy’s affect its participants who work at or apply for jobs and are rejected or terminated because of the company’s policy.
JoAnne Page, President and CEO of The Fortune Society, said, “Collateral consequences from convictions, such as discriminatory hiring policies, serve only to further punish and marginalize already vulnerable communities. Most people we serve at The Fortune Society are in fragile housing, financial, physical, or emotional circumstances. People need real opportunities to help reclaim their life, not more obstacles.” Ms. Page added, “All applicants deserve to be evaluated based on the qualifications necessary to perform the job, independent of any justice history. Given a fair opportunity to succeed, people with justice system involvement would add significant value to the workforce at Macy’s.”
“The criminal history screening policy at Macy’s denies jobs to many qualified applicants and employees. Overly restrictive and punitive criminal history screening policies can disproportionately impact Black and Latinx workers, due to racial discrimination in the criminal justice system,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel at LDF. “Macy’s must amend its discriminatory criminal history screening policy and create more economic opportunities for deserving Americans.”
Ms. Rolfer, a Black professional, was hired to work at a Macy’s Credit Granting Department, but was abruptly terminated by the company for a misdemeanor conviction stemming from a decade-old traffic related incident. Reflecting on her experience, Ms. Rolfer said, “I was excited to work for Macy’s. I was qualified and had the experience to do the job well and it was a great opportunity for me and my family. I was devastated to be fired over information in my background check that is unrelated to my ability to be a productive employee.”
Ms. Rolfer alleges that Macy’s has violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by rejecting applicants or terminating employees based on information contained in criminal background reports without providing individuals with a copy of their report, a notice of their rights, or a timely notification of its intent to take an adverse employment action. This prevents individuals from, among other things, disputing inaccurate information in their reports prior to denial or termination of employment.
The lawsuit follows a May 2017 discrimination charge against Macy’s that was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by O&G on behalf of Fortune, whose clients are 93% Black or Hispanic/Latinx. Ms. Rolfer filed her discrimination charge with the EEOC in February 2019.
LDF, O&G, and YR also represent former Macy’s applicants and employees who were denied employment or terminated by Macy’s because of their criminal background, but who are barred from joining the lawsuit because of a mandatory arbitration provision that the company required them to sign. Mandatory arbitration provisions forbid employees from going to court to enforce their rights, requiring them instead to bring their disputes before private arbitrators in non-public proceedings.
“We have seen many advances in the law to assist with the successful community reintegration of individuals with criminal histories,” said Cheryl-Lyn Bentley, an attorney at Outten & Golden. “However pernicious hiring practices screening out applicants and employees based solely on their criminal histories set us all back and are antithetical to principles of fairness and justice.”
“Denying employment for qualified candidates leaves people unable to support themselves and their families,” said Michael Pope, Interim Executive Director at Youth Represent, “and further perpetuates racial discrimination in our criminal justice system.” Mr. Pope added, “Not to mention, Macy’s is losing out on an incredible pool of qualified, passionate, and dedicated employees.”
Read the full complaint here.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) has a long history of fighting for economic justice and equal opportunity in the workforce, including in the 1971 Supreme Court’s seminal case Griggs v. Duke Power Company, which recognized the unjustified disparate impact theory of liability under Title VII. Additionally, for more than a decade, LDF has worked to combat discriminatory barriers facing people with criminal records. In December 2017, LDF announced a settlement of its case against the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority regarding its criminal background screening policy for job applicants and employees. And in April 2018, LDF and O&G reached a $3.74 million settlement with Target Corporation to resolve allegations that its overly broad and outdated criminal background check policy discriminated against African-American and Latinx job applicants.
LDF is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.
Outten & Golden, an employment and civil rights law firm, is committed to representing individuals who have been denied employment because of their criminal histories. In 2017 the firm received the 2017 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award from Public Justice for an unprecedented class action settlement after achieving class certification in a case challenging the use of criminal history records to deny hundreds of thousands of applicants temporary jobs during the 2010 decennial census.
Youth Represent, a nonprofit legal organization, is dedicated to improving the lives and futures of young people affected by the criminal justice system. Founded in 2006, Youth Represent has developed a community-lawyering model that combines direct legal representation, youth leadership and civic engagement, and advocacy for systemic reform. Youth Represent provides rap sheet review and employment counseling to thousands of justice-involved youth, along with comprehensive legal representation when youth people face employment discrimination, eviction, school suspension, summonses, warrant returns and other criminal and civil legal issues. Youth Represent uses the insights gleaned from its direct representation to inform its policy and strategic litigation work.
The Fortune Society has advocated on criminal justice issues for more than five decades and is nationally recognized for developing model programs that help people with criminal justice histories grow as assets to their communities. Fortune offers a holistic and integrated model of comprehensive service provision. Among the services offered are discharge planning, licensed outpatient substance use and mental health treatment, benefits enrollment and access, alternatives to incarceration, HIV/AIDS case management, health services, career development and job retention, education, family services, and supportive housing as well as lifetime access to aftercare.
Youth Represent is currently seeking an Executive Director!
The Board of Directors is committed to hiring a new Executive Director who can enhance the work of Youth Represent, who has a demonstrated commitment to the community we serve, and who can successfully navigate the changes in the criminal legal landscape. When our founding Executive Director announced her decision to step down, the Board of Directors named Legal Director Michael Pope to serve as Interim Executive Director, and engaged the Support Center of New York to assist with the search for a permanent replacement.
The ideal candidate possesses a deep understanding of how the criminal legal system disproportionately and intentionally harms young people of color. She/They/He is a strategic thinker and steadfast in implementing organizational priorities and is an exceptional communicator who has a strong commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. An ideal candidate would also have existing relationships with NYC community-based organizations that specialize in youth services, as well as the funders who support this work.
For more information and to access the full job description, click here.
Youth Represent in collaboration with the Bronx Freedom Fund and RFK Human Rights put together "Classrooms not Cages" - a back to school bailout of 18-21 year olds on Rikers Island that launched on August 24th, 2017.
We've created a landing page for fundraising here and will start bailing young people out as early as next week. There are 1,500 high-school age New Yorkers are held at Rikers only to await trial because they can't afford bail and who have not been convicted of a crime. This bailout will allow us to also free young people who are ineligible to be bailed out by the charitable bail funds.
Youth Represent Executive Director Laurie Parise stood behind Governor Andrew Cuomo as he signed historic legislation raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York to 18. Since our inception in 2007, Youth Represent has been a leader in the campaign to Raise the Age. The founding principle of Youth Represent is that young people involved in the justice system need opportunities to succeed, not a lifetime of stigma. This principle guides our client representation and our Raise the Age advocacy. Over the past ten years we have drafted legislation, advocated directly with policy makers, and most importantly ensured that the voices of young people affected by the justice system were heard.
This legislation is a critical victory. It proves that New Yorkers care about justice-involved teenagers and that we can agree that punishing them as we do adults harms kids and doesn’t do anything to improve public safety. It also leaves an enormous amount of work to be done. That’s why we remain committed to monitoring its implementation and will not back down from pushing for further reform. We look forward to building on these shared values as we continue to advocate for justice-involved youth.
You can read our official statement on the Raise the Age legislation here.
Youth Represent was among the recipients of Outten & Golden’s 2017 Public Interest Awardees. Since 2008, Outten & Golden has recognized a single nonprofit organization each year, but announced that this year, “in response to a rising tide of intolerance,” they would recognize three groups fighting for the civil rights of vulnerable communities. Youth Represent was proud to stand alongside Council on Islamic-American Relations-NY and the NYS Youth Leadership Council in accepting the award.
Youth Represent has been working in partnership with Outten & Golden on a number of employment discrimination cases. We are leveraging their firm capacity with our expertise in serving youth to bring cases on behalf of justice-involved young people who are being denied jobs because of their criminal histories–in violation of New York State law and New York City’s ban-the-box law.
2016 was a year of tremendous growth for Youth Represent. Our community-lawyering model was in high demand, as we entered into partnerships to deliver it in New York City schools, public housing, and Rikers Island. To learn more, click here.
As the U.S. commemorates our first National Reentry Week, Youth Represent is proud to announce that, in partnership with the New York City Housing Authority, we have been awarded a Juvenile Reentry Assistance Program grant from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) to expand our community-lawyering model to public housing here in New York. The announcement was made yesterday by Attorney General Loretta Lynch and HUD Secretary Julian Castro during a Reentry Roundtable event. Only 18 grants were awarded nationwide.
“Reconnecting young people who’ve paid their debt to society to decent jobs and housing allows them to turn the page and become active, productive members of their communities,” said Secretary Castro at the event. “These grants offer a helping hand to those who deserve a second chance so they have a real opportunity to reach their full potential.”
Our project will offer the same combination of direct legal representation, Know Your Rights workshops, and capacity building that have become the hallmark of our successful community-lawyering model. Our staff will be on-site at New York City Housing Authority developments across the five boroughs, meeting young people where they live to minimize legal barriers to reentry.
New York has taken huge steps towards raising the age of criminal responsibility, and Youth Represent is proud to be a part of this important movement to protect youth and promote public safety. Earlier this year, the Governor released his proposal to raise the age, based the recommendations of his Commission on Youth, Justice, and…