The lawsuit, filed in state court by the California Civil Rights Department (CRD), accuses Ralph’s of flouting a 2018 law that bars most employers from asking applicants about their criminal record prior to offering them a job.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages for affected job applicants, for lost wages and benefits and mental and emotional distress, and punitive damages.
Ralph’s, which operates more than 180 grocery stores in California, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kevin Kish, the agency’s director, said in a statement that the law provides crucial protections to millions of people with criminal records.
“We can’t expect people to magically gain the economic and housing stability needed to reintegrate into their communities and stay out of the criminal legal system without a fair chance at steady employment,” he said.
The agency said the lawsuit is the first-ever filed under the law, known as the Fair Chance Act. The law also provides that employers can only reject prospective employees based on their criminal history when their convictions have a direct relationship to a job.
The agency said it has investigated hundreds of complaints alleging violations of the Fair Chance Act since the law was adopted and has secured about 70 settlements, including separate $100,000 settlements with a fire protection district and a construction company.
The agency said it could not reach a settlement with Ralph’s, prompting it to sue.
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