Can a State Agency Refuse to Hire You Based on a Prior Criminal Conviction?

New York State law forbids most employers, including state agencies, from refusing to hire a job applicant solely on the basis of a prior criminal conviction. There are some exceptions to this rule, notably in cases in which the employer makes a specific factual determination that there is a direct link between the applicant's prior crime and the current job available. But again, an employer cannot simply cite any criminal conviction as proof the applicant lacks “good moral character.”

Appellate Division: Woman Wrongfully Denied State Job Waited Too Long to Seek Monetary Damages

If you have been denied a job with a state or local government agency based on your criminal record, you have the right to file an Article 78 proceeding. This allows a court to order the agency to hire you. In some cases, you may be able to seek additional monetary damages.

As with all types of employment discrimination lawsuits, there are certain time limits that must be observed, i.e., the statute of limitations. A recent decision from the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, in upstate New York offers a useful illustration. In this case, Carrington v. New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, the plaintiff applied for a job as a Medicaid Service Coordinator with a children's center. The OPWDD, the state agency in charge of the center, rejected the plaintiff's application due to a prior criminal conviction.

The plaintiff then initiated an Article 78 proceeding in Onondaga County Supreme Court. This lawsuit proved successful. A judge agreed the OPWDD violated state law when it discriminated against the plaintiff, and that its decision was “arbitrary, capricious, and without a rational basis.” The judge's decision led OPWDD to issue a written memorandum in March 2014 withdrawing its previous instruction not to hire the plaintiff.

Three years later, in March 2017, the plaintiff filed a new lawsuit against OPWDD. This time she asked the court to award her damages for “mental anguish, humiliation, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life” arising from the agency's original decision not to hire her. The judge dismissed this new lawsuit, however, noting there is a three-year statute of limitations on such claims.

This three-year clock starts to run from the date of the original injury, the judge explained. In this case, that was August 2013, when the OPWDD first notified the plaintiff it would not hire her due to her prior criminal conviction. So the plaintiff had until August 2016–three years later–to file any claim for damages arising from that discriminatory act.

The Fourth Department affirmed the trial judge's ruling on this issue. In March 15, 2019, opinion, the appellate division rejected the plaintiff's argument that the denial of employment was part of an “ongoing policy of discrimination” that did not end until the March 2014 memorandum was issued. Rather, the original decision not to hire was a “single act,” and therefore “the three-year statute of limitations for the Human Rights Law began to run on that date.”

Speak with a New York City Article 78 Lawyer Today

Time is never on your side when it comes to dealing with the courts. That is why it is critical to engage an experienced New York City employment attorney the moment you suspect a private or public employer is breaking the law. Contact the Nisar Law Group, P.C., to schedule a consultation with a member of our Article 78 legal team today.

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