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State Ignores Its Own New Law Protecting Job Applicants With Soon-to-be-Dropped Criminal Cases, Suit Claims

Brooklyn Criminal Court
Brooklyn Criminal Court on Schermerhorn Street.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Michael McCoy needed to clear one final hurdle last October before landing a job as a case manager at a nonprofit serving homeless New Yorkers: pass a criminal background check.

“They’re paying me to do fingerprints, so I must be the candidate here that they’re going to hire,” he told THE CITY of his thinking at the time. “Alright, great. I’m gonna get a job. I need a job.”

McCoy, a 43-year-old from Bushwick, had a clean record — save for an arrest months earlier, after which he was charged with three misdemeanors and one non-criminal violation. He declined to discuss details.

In November, a judge declared his court case “adjourned in contemplation of dismissal,” or ACD, in legal shorthand. If he stayed out of trouble through May 5, 2020, his charges would be dropped and his case sealed.

A new lawsuit alleges that Michael McCoy, 43, was denied a job opportunity because he was discriminated against during a criminal background check.
A new lawsuit alleges that Michael McCoy, 43, was denied a job opportunity because he was discriminated against during the criminal background check phase.
Courtesy of Michael McCoy

That should have cleared him to get the job. A change in state law one year ago explicitly addressed situations like McCoy’s — telling employers and licensing agencies that they cannot hold an ACD against a job applicant.

But in a lawsuit filed Monday in Manhattan Supreme Court, McCoy alleges that the Cuomo administration is violating a civil rights law the governor himself signed as part of last year’s state budget deal.

McCoy asserts that the state Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs, which screens some candidates for employment in social services, improperly barred him from taking a job last year with Urban Pathways.

“The purpose of having this amendment was to end this kind of discrimination,” said McCoy’s attorney, Joshua Carrin of the Legal Aid Society, which advocated for the law change. “The Justice Center’s policy really just flies in the face of that.”

The case demands an end to what Carrin contends is the Justice Center’s policy of suspending application reviews while ACD cases are pending. It also seeks missed pay and benefits for McCoy, as well as clearance to get the Urban Pathways job.

A Justice Center spokesperson, Bill Reynolds, declined to comment, as did Urban Pathways Executive Director Fred Shack.

‘Violated the Spirit’

The standoff disturbs Assemblymember David Weprin (D-Queens), who sponsored the anti-discrimination measure. He says that McCoy’s situation — someone whose case was on track for dismissal, and who had not pleaded guilty or been convicted of a crime — was precisely the kind of scenario he sought to prevent.

“That’s why I introduced a bill, and that’s why it became the law, to prevent this type of discrimination and I’m hoping he’ll win the lawsuit based on that,” Weprin told THE CITY.

He added: “I think it’s certainly violated the spirit of the law, if not the law itself.”

The Justice Center for People With Special Needs, created in 2012 following a New York Times expose of abuse in state-supervised facilities, serves as a gatekeeper for a large share of social services jobs in New York.

The Center conducts criminal background checks for all prospective employees of facilities and provider agencies overseen by state offices dealing with mental health, child welfare and developmental disabilities, such as supportive housing and foster care agencies.

Urban Pathways was eager to hire McCoy despite his court case, a November letter submitted as evidence suggests — but couldn’t persuade the Justice Center to budge.

“We are very interested in hiring this applicant,” a human resources staff member wrote.

Weeks later, an email from Urban Pathways to Carrin indicated, the organization informed McCoy it would not hold the job open until the Justice Center cleared him. But he was told he would be welcome to reapply thereafter.

In May, McCoy landed a job as a case manager at a different nonprofit that provides housing for women who are HIV-positive. That ended a long stretch of joblessness for McCoy, which he says has been challenging.

“I mean, financially, it’s sucked,” he said. “It’s really been bad. It’s been hard.”

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