Apple Backs Down After Outcry About Illegal Hiring Policy

Apple has rescinded its discriminatory policy of refusing to hire construction workers with felony records. The story was first broken by the San Francisco Chronicle, which reported that several workers hired to build the company's new Cupertino campus were ordered to leave the site. The story quotes Kevin Yip, 26, who had pleaded no contest to a charge in 2008 after getting into a physical altercation. In the skirmish, a man's jaw was broken, though Yip claims he had nothing to do with it. He told reporter Wendy Lee, "It’s not fair for people’s pasts to come back...and not be able to support their family and stay out of trouble.”

Michael Theriault, president of the iron workers union, and union business manager Dennis Meakin, wrote a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Attorney General Kamala Harris in January urging the company to change their policy. The matter was also taken up by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who publicly denounced the ban. Mark Ames wrote a series of short pieces about the controversy and put the restrictions into context at PandoDaily:

Using background checks on construction workers to discriminate against those charged with or convicted of felonies is reportedly very rare in the construction industry, one of the industries that provide opportunities for ex-convicts to get back on their feet in life. Discrimination against ex-offenders is a major ongoing problem that exacerbates poverty, inequality and racism; in an incarceration-mad state like California, Apple’s policy imposed on construction companies it hires means worsening inequality and cycles of poverty for a problem that disproportionately affects people of color.

The Equal Opportunity Commission has interpreted the Civil Rights Act to require that employers cite a business necessity if they're going to bar ex-convicts from working. Last year, the mayor of San Francisco signed "Ban the Box" legislation into law, making it illegal for a company of over 20 employees to ask about a person's criminal history. (Apple obviously has a lot more than 20 employees.)

Yesterday, Apple released a statement to the San Jose Mercury News which reads:

It recently came to our attention that, as part of a background check process unique to the Apple Campus 2 construction project, a few applicants were turned away because they had been convicted of a felony within the past seven years. We recognize that this may have excluded some people who deserve a second chance. We have now removed that restriction and instructed our contractors on the project to evaluate all applicants equally, on a case-by-case basis, as we would for any role at Apple.

It seems clear that public pressure forced Apple to change its policy. Apple's statement also appears to indicate it is aware of the fact that it broke the law.

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