News Room

No “Fair Chance” at Ralph’s?

Grocery Store Chain Sued Over Workers’ Rights

By Brian Kabateck

The State of California recently filed suit against Ralph’s, a prominent Southern California supermarket chain and the largest grocery store giant, Kroger subsidiary. 

The California Civil Rights Department (CRD) alleges that Ralph’s has persistently violated the Fair Chance Act by illegally refusing employment to hundreds of qualified job seekers.

Formerly incarcerated individuals face debilitating barriers to employment

According to statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, over 600,000 people are released from American prisons every year, and approximately 7 million are released from jail. Unfortunately, two out of three are arrested again within three years of release, and over half are reincarcerated.

Formerly incarcerated individuals face many obstacles to successful reentry into society and a fresh start. They confront significant barriers to economic security and stable housing. They may lose access to student loans, federal and state benefits, food assistance, and a driver’s license—and landing a good job can be one of the highest hurdles.

What is the Fair Chance Act?

The Fair Chance Act (Government Code section 12952), which went into effect January 1, 2018, generally prohibits employers from asking applicants about conviction history during the hiring process. Often called a “Ban the Box” law, this key anti-discrimination statute is intended to reduce recidivism by providing previously incarcerated individuals with ample opportunity to attain gainful employment, earn a living to support themselves and their families, improve their mental health, and strengthen their relationship with the community.

Under the law, public and private companies with five or more employees are not allowed to:


  • Include questions about conviction history on a job application before making a conditional job offer;
  • Ask about or consider criminal history before making a conditional job offer
  • Consider information about arrests that didn’t result in conviction; charges or convictions that were dismissed, sealed, or eradicated after completion of diversion programs; or convictions that have been “sealed, dismissed expunged, statutorily eradicated.”


The law ensures that employers make hiring decisions based on a person’s qualifications—not their record. Although the employer can conduct a background check after making an initial offer of employment, the law requires them to evaluate the applicant’s conviction history on an individual basis and consider numerous factors, including the “nature and gravity” of the conviction, how long ago it happened, and whether it is pertinent to the position in question.

The Act further requires employers to notify applicants in writing of any preliminary decision to disqualify them from a job due to a past conviction. The company must then give the job-seeker at least five days to respond to a denial of employment.

In a press statement, the CRD claimed that Ralph’s “has ignored and continues to ignore” the Fair Chance Act by screening out otherwise qualified applicants based on criminal histories that do not have any adverse relationship with the duties of the job for which they were applying.

The suit contends that Ralph’s “repeatedly violated the Fair Chance Act’s procedural and substantive requirements and has done so since the law’s enactment,” including:


  • Use of “confusing and misleading” job application forms that contained unlawful questions “seeking the disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history”;
  • Failure to conduct individualized assessments to determine whether candidates’ past convictions justify denial of employment under the standards of the Act;
  • Ruling out applicants whose past conviction has no bearing on their ability to do the job they seek;
  • Withdrawing offers based on a single misdemeanor (excessive noise, for example, or a cannabis possession conviction from another state);
  • Inadequate notification regarding the reason for revocation of a job offer;
  • According to CDR, over 75% of job-seekers who learned Ralph’s offer was rescinded were not provided any means of contesting the decision. Further, those offered the opportunity to respond were given inadequate instructions (phone numbers that were fax lines, insufficient contact information, and no indication of what information was necessary to contest the decision).


According to the suit, these violations “resulted in direct economic and dignitary harms to applicants and their families,” preventing them from being able to pay for essential services, inflicting emotional suffering, and causing housing insecurity.

CRD is seeking a jury trial, compensatory and punitive damages, an end to Ralph’s infringements of the Fair Chance Act, and additional relief for victims at the court’s discretion.

“The Fair Chance Act is about giving every Californian an opportunity to thrive,” CRD director Kevin Kish said in the December 21st statement. “Ralphs has continued to unlawfully deny jobs to qualified candidates and that’s why we’re taking them to court.”

If you believe that a company has illegally refused you employment or violated your rights in the hiring process based on a past conviction, you must find skilled and experienced legal representation. The attorneys at Kabateck LLP are committed to defending the rights of all workers.