Over 100 African-American workers have filed a discrimination complaint against retail giant Walmart, saying the company denied them jobs because of their past criminal histories.
Before taking over management of a distribution center in Elwood, Ill., earlier this year, Walmart promised its nearly 600 employees raises and benefits, CBS Money Watch reported. Instead, nearly 200 Black workers found themselves without jobs because of their criminal records.
The retailer, which has nearly 5,000 stores across the U.S., claims it’s open to hiring felons. However, that didn’t seem to be the case for the hundreds of workers who lost their jobs in February despite having worked at the now-Walmart-owned facility for years.
Schneider Logistics, a third-party contractor, had been managing the warehouse until January, when Walmart decided to take on the role.
Mark Balentine, 52, said he was “absolutely excited” when he was told in writing that his pay would be increasing to $18.65 an hour from $16.35. His smile turned upside down, however, after hearing from colleagues that the company might have an issue with felons.
The news was jolting for Balentine, considering his 20-year-old conviction for cocaine possession.
“I’m a changed person, if I could roll back the clock to 1999 …” he told CBS MoneyWatch, adding: “If we don’t give people chances, we’re going to have overcrowded prisons. None of us should be out of a job or at the unemployment office.”
Balentine was set to start work at the Walmart-managed warehouse but was informed that he wouldn’t be hired after the company ran a criminal background check. On April 4, the day Walmart took over operations, the 52-year-old said four security guards escorted him off the premises.
Balentine had worked at the facility for almost three years and was suddenly unemployed.
According to Christopher Williams, a lawyer with the National legal Advocacy Network, Balentine was among several Black workers who performed their work so effectively and professionally, “that Walmart initially offered them their jobs.” He said what happened to the nearly 200 workers, all of whom are African-American, was no doubt unlawful.
“This is not only not right, we believe it is not lawful,” Williams said.
A complaint has since been filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Commission (EEOC), with a class-action suit expected in the future, Williams told the outlet. He noted the disproportionate impact on the warehouse’s Black workers and said that non-Black workers with criminal backgrounds were allowed to keep their jobs.
Walmart responded in a statement Wednesday saying it had restarted its application process and that the previous background check does not “bar employment.” According to ABC7, employees who lost their jobs said they were told to simply reapply.
Despite the complaint, Walmart added that most of those working at the warehouse had been kept on.
“Retaining as many existing employees as possible has always been the goal of our transition at the Elwood distribution center, and we hired hundreds of those workers,” a company spokesman said. “We understand the importance of providing second chances, and our background checks include a thoughtful and transparent review process to help ensure everyone is treated fairly.”
This isn’t the first time the popular retailer has been hit with discrimination claims. In February, 100 women filed a class-action suit against Walmart in the U.S. Southern District of Florida accusing the company of funneling female employees into minimum wage positions while male workers got starting salaries of $14 to $21 per hour for the same jobs.
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