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Bay Area Fire District Pays $100,000 Settlement for Withdrawing Job Offer Based on Applicant’s Criminal Record

The Moraga-Orinda Fire Protection District (MOFD) agreed to pay nearly $97,500 to settle a case brought against it by a job applicant. The settlement, announced by the California Civil Rights Department, stems from the district’s alleged violation of the state’s Fair Chance Act.

The law prohibits employers from wrongfully considering an individual’s criminal history during the hiring process. Employers are required to use fair hiring practices when reviewing job applicants. The case is a reminder that employment discrimination can occur even before a person is hired. 

The woman involved in the case brought a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department. She claimed that the fire district withdrew a job offer because of her responses to a criminal history questionnaire. Her name was not revealed publicly.

The candidate had already stopped working at her previous fire position at the time of the job offer withdrawal and suffered financial difficulties as a result. Since her release from prison, the woman was employed for five years as a fire inspector at another Bay Area district that knew about her criminal history.

The woman applied for the fire inspector/plans organizer position at the MOFD in 2022. The job involves performing inspections and issuing citations. She received a job offer after being selected from a pool of 22 applicants. However, the job offer was rescinded about a month later once the department found out about her criminal history.

The California Civil Rights Department asserted that the East Bay fire district failed to consider crucial mitigating factors, such as the timing of the crime, how serious it was and its relevance to the position sought. Additionally, MOFD Human Resources did not allow the job applicant to engage in an interactive process to discuss their decision to rescind the job offer or present any evidence of rehabilitation.

Officials refrained from sharing the specifics of the applicant’s criminal history, emphasizing the broader issue of fair consideration rather than focusing on the nature of the offenses. The woman’s criminal conviction dates to 2005 and arose from an “accident,” according to her lawyer. The crime occurred due to negligence rather than malice. During her five-year prison sentence, she participated in a program in which inmates help state firefighters.

The Fair Chance Act, enacted in California in 2018, was designed to provide individuals with prior criminal records a fair opportunity to secure employment. The law aims to protect job seekers from workplace discrimination and help those with criminal convictions re-enter the workforce. 

Employers with five or more workers are barred from asking about an applicant’s criminal history until a conditional job offer is extended. Even then, the law mandates that employers assess the relevance of the criminal history to the job and consider individual factors before making any adverse employment decisions. Employers must also provide the job applicant an opportunity to challenge any decision to rescind a job offer.

In the MOFD case, the failure to consider mitigating factors, such as the time that had elapsed since the criminal offenses and their relevance to the job, constituted a violation of the Fair Chance Act. The $97,500 settlement, one of the largest in the state since the law was enforced, reflects the gravity of the violation. The MOFD agreed to compensate the affected person and review its policies.

The MOFD acknowledged that it overlooked the Fair Chance Act’s provisions and said it would prevent future violations of the law. As part of the settlement, the fire department will run anti-discrimination training sessions for human resources workers and supervisors. Moreover, the district will disseminate information to all employees about the Fair Chance Act, fostering awareness and compliance. 

If you have experienced unlawful discrimination during the hiring process or in the workplace, contact a skilled San Francisco employment lawyer as soon as possible. In addition to the protections under the Fair Chance Act, California law bars employers from discriminating against workers based on many different personal characteristics such as age, nationality, race and gender.

Attorney Bryan McCormack of McCormack Law Firm is relentless in his pursuit of justice for workers. He is ready to answer your questions and resolve your employment law-related issues. Contact McCormack Law Firm today for a free initial consultation and to discuss your legal options.

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