Employment Discrimination Against Women with Criminal Convictions

Document Date: June 30, 2009

If you or someone you know has experienced job discrimination because of a criminal conviction, please share your experience with us by filling out this confidential survey.

In the last three decades, the “war on drugs,” mandatory minimum sentences, and over-criminalization have had devastating and disparate effects on people of color and low income people, including rising numbers of women.

    • This year, nearly 700,000 people will leave prison.
    • One in five U.S. adults has a criminal record on file with the states.
    • Racial disparities in the criminal justice system persist: African Americans constituted 900,000 of the 2.2 million incarcerated Americans as of 2007. As of 2005, African American women were more than three times as likely as white women to be in prison or jail, and Hispanic women were 69% more likely.
    • A Los Angeles survey found that over 60% of employers would “probably not” or “definitely not” be willing to hire an individual with a criminal record.

  • The number of women with convictions (especially low-level drug-related convictions) has skyrocketed. From 1985 to 2007, the number of women in prison increased at nearly double the rate of men.

People with legal histories face dramatic barriers to gaining employment

  • People with records face widespread employment discrimination. Criminal records have become easily accessible and widely available to employers. For a few dollars, employers can download them from the internet. Now a big business for hundreds of companies, background reports are often riddled with errors, and people find it difficult to correct all copies of a report containing incorrect records, or records that should have been sealed or expunged.
    A handful of companies manages criminal history databases with more than 100 million criminal records. 80% of large employers conduct criminal background checks.
  • Many states impose statutory bans on people with certain convictions working, for example, in nursing, childcare, and home health care – fields in which many poor women and women of color are concentrated. People who have worked with children or the elderly for decades can find themselves abruptly disqualified due to even old and minor convictions.

The EEOC and some courts have held that employers’ bans on hiring people with convictions or arrests can violate Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the absence of a “business necessity,” because such bans have a disproportionate impact on people of color. Notwithstanding EEOC’s policy statements, the employment rights of people with legal histories have rarely been enforced in court.

The ACLU Women’s Rights Project, in conjunction with ACLU state affiliates around the country, is launching an initiative to tackle the ways in which people with criminal records are barred from rebuilding their lives through employment.


  • Enforce individuals’ rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the EEOC's policies forbidding employers from refusing to hire ex-offenders by bringing cases to the EEOC and to the courts.
  • Challenge statutory and regulatory bars that prevent people with criminal records from working in particular fields, especially fields that employ many low-income women and women of color.

If you or someone you know has experienced job discrimination because of a criminal conviction, please share your experience with us by filling out this confidential survey.

For more information about employment discrimination and collateral consequences, contact:

ACLU Women’s Rights Project
125 Broad Street, 18th Fl.
New York, NY 10004
(212) 549-2644

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