During the holiday season when big box stores rake in the profits as Santa’s middle man, Best Buy has climbed atop the Grinch’s mountain and potentially seizing the title from traditional villains Walmart and Target. It remains to be seen if Best Buy’s discriminatory employment practices hit them where it hurts in the short run, but they will likely learn (as Target did) they are on the wrong side of history to discriminate against the 80 million Americans with criminal histories.
After Best Buy’s corporate offices discovered that Thomas Herndon, their Farmington, New Mexico store’s general manager, had hired a man with a bank robbery conviction: they fired him. The general manager. Despite the fact that Herndon subjected the prospective employee to a background check, drug test, and heard agreement from other employees, the corporate managers felt this was a “questionable hiring decision, without partnering with appropriate leadership, that could have put the company at risk.” Best Buy has no policy mandating their general managers partner with “appropriate leadership” (whoever that may be), and apparently does not trust someone who they have hired in a managerial role.
Best Buy may be violating the EEOC Guidelines of 2012
The lawyers among us can bicker about what sort of claims Herndon may or may not have, but the court of public opinion sways market forces more than judges ever have. In this case, Herndon sued for a retaliatory firing and argued that employers have an obligation not to discriminate under New Mexico state law. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals (and the lower federal court) disagreed however, and ruled that the law only applies to state employment. This is a prime example of why “Ban the Box” laws need to extend out to all workplaces.
Ban the Box is a movement started by All of Us or None over a decade ago in California’s Bay Area, demanding that people not be asked to “check the box” if convicted of a crime. Through networks of directly impacted people, this argument against blanket bans has gone viral. Although over 100 jurisdictions have banned the box in some form or another, only Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island have extended it to private employers. [Last I checked, none of these states have fallen off the map.]
The national network pushing for Ban the Box (and other reforms) has merged into the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People and Families Movement (FICPFM). Through a recent partnership with John Legend and Color of Change, FICPFM put 130,000 petition signatures on President Obama’s desk. A week later he announced an executive order to ensure a least discriminatory hiring process for federal job applications. To be clear, a decent process won’t end all discrimination in people’s hearts and does not guarantee a single job. What it does is allow an applicant to get a fair shot in an interview, perhaps at Best Buy. It gives him a chance to explain him or herself to a general manager, perhaps in Farmington, New Mexico. It allows someone a chance to start earning a paycheck and build up a life after serving their time in a cage.
Anti-Discrimination needs enforcement, not tolerance
President Obama needs to go a step further and require all government contractors to submit their hiring policies for Ban the Box review. Those with discriminatory policies, or reported discriminatory practices, will not get the contract. Any Congressional action, such as The Fair Chance Act (H.R. 3470 / S. 2021), needs to follow a similar route. Furthermore, Congress clearly must address injustices such as the one committed by Best Buy, who feel they can judge an employment application without ever meeting the applicant- this is precisely the reason hundreds of thousands of people have mobilized over the years to democratically call for changes.
Best Buy might be wise enough to learn from Target, who had blanket hiring bans against people with criminal convictions, despite also exploiting the labor of incarcerated people in Minnesota. When grassroots people, led by Take Action Minnesota and others, filled the streets and filed litigation, the corporation reformed their ways. Ironically, Best Buy’s corporate headquarters is one town over from Target, in Richfield, Minnesota.
As a member of FICPFM, grassroots author of the Rhode Island Ban the Box law, and father of a girl who has been wanting the “Descendants” movie on DVD: I certainly won’t be buying it from the Grinch who steals jobs from people who believe in rehabilitation, reentry and one interconnected community.