A group of public interest attorneys in Pennsylvania say they have reached a settlement with Sunoco after it violated a little-known law that limits the criminal records that employers can consider while hiring.
Pennsylvania bars employers from taking into account an applicant’s past crimes if they are not related to the job in question. They also can’t consider arrests that did not lead to convictions.
In 2012, Sunoco denied employment to a woman because of an arrest five years prior, according to the Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity and other legal aid attorneys. Stephanie Settles, a longtime worker in the customer service industry, was applying for a job at a gas station in Philadelphia.
“I felt really bad because I knew that I was able to do the job and all I needed was an opportunity to prove myself,” she said.
Settles declined to say why she was arrested, and has since had her criminal record expunged.
Michael Hardiman, an attorney with Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, says the group’s members are putting other companies on notice. Their goal is for the law to ultimately be enforced, which they say would benefit not only the individual applicants but also Pennsylvania residents at large.
“Numerous studies show that if you continue to be unemployed, you are much more likely to commit crime in the future than if you get a job,” said Hardiman. “It’s just good for society.”
He argues that it is also a civil rights matter, since minority men account for 61 percent of Pennsylvania’s inmates but only 16 percent of the state’s population.
The legal aid attorneys say Sunoco independently changed its hiring practices after the incident. They also say the company vowed to comply with the law in the future.
Jeffrey Shields, a spokesman for Sunoco, declined to provide details, saying that the public interest attorneys’ news release about the settlement speaks for itself.
Neither party is disclosing the full details of the settlement.