Lawsuit Results in a Fair Chance for Job Seekers



West Contra Costa Unified School District settles hiring case, gives a fair chance to job applicants with prior convictions

Caption to attached photo (L to R): Daniel Nesbit, Impact Fund, Law Fellow; Lindsay Nako, Impact Fund, Director of Litigation & Training; Tamisha Walker, Plaintiff Safe Return Project, Executive Director; Plaintiff Walter Killian; Rebekah Evenson, Bay Area Legal Aid, Director of Litigation & Advocacy

Caption to attached photo (L to R): Daniel Nesbit, Impact Fund, Law Fellow; Lindsay Nako, Impact Fund, Director of Litigation & Training; Tamisha Walker, Plaintiff Safe Return Project, Executive Director; Plaintiff Walter Killian; Rebekah Evenson, Bay Area Legal Aid, Director of Litigation & Advocacy

May 8, 2019 (Richmond, California) - The Safe Return Project and Richmond resident Walter Killian have reached a landmark settlement with West Contra Costa Unified School District that will make important changes to the District's hiring practices and ensure job applicants with prior convictions have a fair chance at employment.


Starting in June 2019, the District will no longer ask about prior convictions on its initial job application. Instead, it will evaluate whether an applicant is qualified for the position before it considers criminal history. The District will also establish a new process for reviewing information about criminal histories, an applicant's rehabilitation, and mitigating circumstances surrounding a prior conviction. Certain criminal convictions will continue to automatically bar employment with the District, but the new policy will help eligible applicants with lesser criminal records.


In late 2016, the District denied Mr. Killian employment as a substitute custodian because of a 20-year-old conviction that he thought had been removed from his record. Mr. Killian decided to file suit to prevent what happened to him from happening to others: "I decided to make it right and say, 'Let's stop it right now.'"


The Safe Return Project later joined the lawsuit. Tamisha Walker, the Safe Return Project's Executive Director, believes fair employment practices benefit the larger community. She said: "True public safety is positioning society to acknowledge that access to economic stability is one of the only pathways to self-sufficiency and long-term liberty."


The Safe Return Project is comprised of formerly incarcerated people and their families, community members, allies, and faith leaders. It seeks to reduce the impact of the criminal justice system in disadvantaged communities by establishing pathways to secure housing and employment for individuals with past convictions. The organization was an advocate for Richmond's "Ban the Box" ordinance, which went into effect in 2013.

The Safe Return Project and Mr. Killian were represented by Bay Area Legal Aid and the Impact Fund.  Rebekah Evenson, Bay Area Legal Aid's Director of Litigation and Advocacy, is pleased with the settlement: "The school district has adopted model policies that will ensure that people with criminal histories have a fair shake at getting a job and successfully rejoining their communities."


Lindsay Nako, Impact Fund's Director of Litigation and Training, agrees: "The changes made by West Contra Costa Unified School District will make a real difference in its community.  We hope other school districts take note and take similar steps to ensure their work forces reflect the communities they serve."


The lawsuit alleged that the District's hiring policies and practices failed to comply with multiple state and local laws:  the California Education Code, which allows school districts to employ individuals who have demonstrated rehabilitation; the District's own administrative policies to the same effect; and the Richmond "Ban the Box" ordinance, which requires city contractors to remove questions about prior convictions from their job applications and to consider prior convictions only after evaluating an applicant's qualification for the job.  The case was filed in January 2018 in Contra Costa Superior Court as Killian v. West Contra Costa Unified School District, Case No. MSN18-0068.