The Fair Chance Act: The Case of the Civil Rights Department vs. Ralph’s Grocery Store (A Message for Employers to Comply)

The Fair Chance Act took effect in 2018. This law forbids employers from asking job applicants about their conviction history before making them a conditional job offer of employment. Under the law, employers are prohibited from including the checkbox that asks about an individual’s criminal history in a job application. This is why it is called the “Ban the Box” law. Also, the Fair Chance Act requires employers to follow specific procedures when considering a job applicant’s criminal history and limits the kind of convictions employers can consider to disqualify candidates. Employers are only allowed to disqualify job applicants whose convictions have a direct adverse relationship to the work responsibilities of the job they applied for. Simply put, the Fair Chance Act aims to give all Californians a chance to thrive.

Since the enactment of the Fair Chance Act, many employers have shown that they are willing to comply. However, some employers have ignored and continue to ignore the Fair Chance Act’s requirements. When an employer violates the Fair Chance Act, the affected party can file a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department (CRD). Individuals have three years to file a complaint. After a complaint is filed with the CRD, the Department conducts investigations and can file a lawsuit against the defendant. In December 2023, the CRD filed a lawsuit against Ralphs Grocery Store, also known as Ralphs, over allegations of violating the Fair Chance Act in the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

According to the lawsuit, Ralphs violated California’s Fair Chance Act and illegally denied employment opportunities to hundreds of applicants. The CRD alleges that Ralphs has violated and continues to violate the law in many ways, including by screening out qualified applicants based on criminal histories that have no direct adverse relationship to the work responsibilities of the job they applied for. The CRD has evidence that Ralphs denied several job applicants an opportunity based on the following types of convictions that don’t have an adverse relationship with the duties of working at a grocery store;

  • Convictions for one misdemeanor count of excessive noise.  
  • Convictions from other states for simple marijuana possession

The CRD claims that Ralphs;

  • Unlawfully included questions in job application forms seeking applicants to disclose their criminal history
  • Did not perform personalized evaluations of applicants’ criminal histories
  • Did not provide sufficient notice about the reasons for the cancellation of a job offer
  • Did not give applicants who were told their job offer would be canceled an opportunity to challenge the decision

The CRD is seeking compensatory damages for the affected individuals, punitive damages, other relief the court deems necessary, and a halt to violating the Act. Since the enactment of the Fair Chance Act, the CRD has handled hundreds of complaints claiming violations of the Act and has secured about 70 settlements. These cases and the case of the CRD vs. Ralphs are a message to California employers to comply with the Ban the Box law or risk facing harsh consequences.

Contact a California Employment Lawyer

If an employer has violated the Fair Chance Act, contact a California employment lawyer near you for legal help.