Iowa Supreme Court issues mixed ruling on Waterloo’s “Ban the Box” ordinance

Updated: Jun. 19, 2021 at 5:27 PM CDT
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WATERLOO, Iowa (KCRG) - The Iowa Supreme Court issued a mixed ruling on Waterloo’s “Ban the Box” ordinance on Friday, with the court striking down a portion of the city’s effort to reduce job discrimination.

Waterloo’s “Ban the Box” ordinance prohibited businesses from asking about a person’s criminal history during the job application process. That’s legal, according to Iowa’s Supreme Court.

But Justices say it went too far in banning businesses from refusing to hire someone based solely on criminal history.

The Waterloo Commission on Human Rights proposed the ordinance to reduce hiring discrimination against Black people. That’s because the commission notes Black people are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.

The city council approved it in November of 2019.

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry quickly filed a lawsuit, saying the ordinance violated state law, which limits the ability of cities to regulate employment terms and conditions.

The Supreme Court upheld the first portion, saying cities in Iowa can ban businesses from asking about criminal history during the application process.

But it struck down the portion that says a business cannot dismiss someone solely based on a criminal conviction, which would come up in a background check.

The justices noted the ordinance ignored that some employers have valid reasons not to hire someone with a criminal record, like a school or daycare.

In his majority opinion, Justice Edward Mansfield wrote, “It forbids every employer’s use of a criminal history box on the job application form for every job, even if the employer might have valid business reasons for asking about criminal history.”

Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart says the city is encouraged with today’s ruling saying, “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.”

The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 1, with one justice not taking part.

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