Court: Workers can’t be fired for criminal record
HONOLULU (AP) – The Hawaii Supreme Court has ruled that a company can’t fire a worker simply because the employee has a criminal record.
The unanimous court decision reinstates a lawsuit filed by a Maui man against Home Depot.
Jon S. Logan Wright sued the retailer for firing him from their Kahului store in 2002 because he had been convicted of using methamphetamine in Las Vegas six years earlier.
The state’s top court sent the case back to Maui trial court, saying Wright should have a chance to show his previous conviction doesn’t have a “rational relationship” to his employment.
Hawaii law allows an employer to take a worker’s conviction into account when deciding whether to keep an employee on payroll, so long as the conviction was within the past 10 years, excluding the time the worker spent in prison. But the law also says the employee’s conviction must have a “rational relationship” to the duties and responsibilities of his or her job.
Home Depot argued Wright’s conviction had “a moderate, fair, or reasonable relationship” to his employment.
The company said it was “a home improvement retailer with substantial concern for the safety of its customers and employees, for its employee culture, for its goodwill and reputation, and for its interest in maintaining an honest environment.”
Wright’s lawyer, Meyer Ueoka, said the court’s ruling was the first on the state’s anti-discrimination employment law regarding a prior conviction of a worker.
Wright pleaded guilty in 1996 to using methamphetamine. He was given a suspended sentence and placed on probation, which he completed in 1997. Four years later, Home Depot hired Wright as an associate sales clerk at its Kahului store’s lumber department.
Wright tested negative for drugs before he was hired but Home Depot did not check his criminal history, Chief Justice Ronald Moon’s wrote.
Maui Circuit Judge Shackley Raffetto dismissed Wright’s suit against Home Depot in 2004.
But Moon ruled that Wright deserved to have a jury or a judge evaluate and decide whether his conviction had a “rational relationship” with his job duties.
Wright, who currently works with a roofing company, was happy with the ruling, Ueoka said.
The law, he said, gives a person convicted of using drugs a “second chance.”