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WATERLOO – The Iowa Supreme Court has upheld part of the City of Waterloo’s “ban the box” ordinance, which was designed to prohibit employers from considering criminal records early in the hiring process.

The high court also struck down portions of the ordinance, passed as a way to provide people with criminal histories a chance at obtaining employment.

Mayor Quentin Hart said the city was encouraged by the ruling.

“Our communities are faced with hiring challenges and an overall labor shortage. This decision supports the many existing Waterloo businesses that have already taken steps to create more inclusive hiring practices and provide a framework for struggling employers to meet the employment needs.” Hart said.

The City Council adopted Ordinance No. 5522, also known as the “fair chance initiative,” in November 2019.

Before it went into effect, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry took the city to court, arguing that the measure went against a 2017 state law that bars cities from adopting rules that “exceed or conflict with the requirements of federal or state law relating to ... hiring practices ... or other terms or conditions of employment.”

A district court judge sided with the city in an April 2020 ruling, and the IABA appealed the decision.

In a ruling handed down Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld parts of the ordinance while striking down others.

What remained was language prohibiting the inquiry into criminal history on an application for businesses with 15 or more employees. It also retained language that prohibits employers inquiring into convictions, arrests and pending criminal charges during the application process and interview, up to the point the employer makes a conditional offer of employment.

The Iowa Supreme Court struck down wording that barred employers from making adverse hiring decisions based on pending criminal charges that have yet to result in convictions, expunged or pardoned criminal charges and an applicant’s criminal record without a legitimate business reason.

shefali aurora

Shefali Aurora

“Today’s decision is an important partial win for local efforts to protect against race discrimination in hiring. ‘Ban-the-box’ policies are vital to remedying racial disparities in employment,” said Shefali Aurora, ACLU of Iowa staff attorney. “Otherwise, the existing racial disparities in our criminal justice system are only amplified.”

The ACLU of Iowa filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

“Research shows that even though ban-the-box requirements like Waterloo’s don’t control an employer’s hiring decisions, they do successfully increase the hiring rates of people with criminal records because they allow employers to better and more objectively evaluate an applicant’s qualifications before becoming aware of a criminal history,” Aurora said.

Justice Christopher McDonald issued a separate opinion on the case.

Waterloo has the highest percentage of Black residents in the state —- about 16%. The Waterloo Commission on Human Rights, which noted the African-Americans and other minority populations were disproportionally represented in the criminal justice system —- introduced the measure as a way to address discrimination in the city.

The Waterloo City Council passed the measure on a 4-3 vote.

This article originally ran on wcfcourier.com.


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