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Man Fired After Employer Learns of Trespassing Misdemeanor 40 Years Ago

Donel Fuller is just one out of potentially millions discriminated against because of a criminal history. But the Ban the Box campaign is changing that—with a huge success this week.

Photo Credit: A Jackson


Earlier this year, when Donel Fuller applied for janitorial work in San Francisco, he believed he had correctly completed the application, especially the questions about his criminal history. He listed his prior convictions and was soon hired. But six weeks later, they fired him when a background check revealed that he had a trespassing misdemeanor back in 1974.

“I didn’t even remember that,” he said. It was in ’74, 40 years ago. I put down the ones I did remember.”

Then Fuller’s plight got worse. His search for work included checking off the criminal history box, which is listed on millions of job and housing applications nationwide. He said he “felt miserable.”

“People will never get a job if they’re looking for stuff way back,” he said, saying his decades-old mistake is keeping him from getting hired today.

But soon, Fuller’s history may not hinder him. San Francisco is on its way to banning the criminal history box on all applications for private employment and affordable housing. This past Tuesday, the city’s Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the legislation, dubbed the Fair Chance Ordinance. It faces one more procedural vote before it moves to the office of the mayor, who said he would sign the bill.

San Francisco joins several other cities, such as Philadelphia and Seattle, in banning private employers from asking about criminal history on applications. Like most of the more than 50 cities and 10 states with so-called Ban the Box laws, San Francisco has laws barring the question on public city jobs.

The latest legislation, however, focuses on the private sector. It does not ban employers from eventually doing a criminal history check, but they must wait until after the first interview or a conditional offer of employment.

The point is to “delay exposure of information until after someone has had a face-to-face meeting to evaluate a person as a full human being—not based on their paper record,” said Jesse Stout, policy director at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), which came up with the concept for the Ban the Box campaign.

San Francisco’s Ban the Box bill also prohibits the consideration of offenses older than seven years, as well as expunged convictions or arrests that didn’t lead to a conviction. It excludes certain occupations, such as childcare or law enforcement.

While employers and housing providers aren’t required to explain their reasons for not hiring or contracting with applicants, it is hard to accurately calculate the impact the criminal history question has on employment and housing. According to LSPC, it has the potential to impact one in four Americans, the number of people with conviction histories.

Removing this barrier could have a big impact. When TakeAction Minnesota, a statewide economic and racial justice network, began pressuring Target, one of the state’s largest employers, to ban the box, the corporation initially refused. It responded by stating that it already uses fair-hiring practices. So organizers had 150 people apply to Target— a majority of them people of color, and all of them with criminal records. According to Justin Terrell of TakeAction Minnesota, only one person out of the 150 was offered a job. The job was rescinded once the corporation found the applicant’s expunged criminal record.

The organizers took 10 applicants and filed complaints to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Target then began working with TakeAction Minnesota and eventually was key in influencing the state’s business community on the issue. Minnesota became the third state, following Hawaii and Massachusetts, to ban the box for private employers at the beginning of this year. Target also decided to ban the box on all of its applications nationwide.