Projects, Units & Initiatives
Worker Justice Project
The Worker Justice Project, an initiative of The Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice, combats discrimination faced by workers with arrest or conviction records living in New York City. Every day employers and licensing agencies unfairly deny qualified individuals the opportunity to work because of pending charges, past convictions, and even sealed or dismissed cases. This discrimination prevents countless New Yorkers from maintaining financial stability and supporting their families—and further disenfranchises people of color already subjected to discriminatory employment practices and the racist administration of criminal justice.
The Worker Justice Project fights this discrimination through a bold and comprehensive approach. The Project advises Criminal Defense Practice staff on the employment consequences of criminal case dispositions in order to minimize harm to clients’ job opportunities, and empowers workers with records to defend their rights. The Project also enforces the rights of workers who are unlawfully denied jobs or licenses because of arrest or conviction records by representing workers in administrative proceedings, pre-litigation advocacy, and affirmative litigation. Finally, the Project challenges government policies that create barriers to employment and advocates for legislative solutions to effect systemic change.
In 2019, the Worker Justice Project represented clients and provided advice in more than 1,000 cases. Our services have enabled our clients to obtain and retain jobs and occupational licenses—and to support themselves and their families.
The Worker Justice Project won a major victory in April 2019 when a bill we advocated for and helped draft was enacted into law. The bill expanded the New York State Human Rights Law to prohibit employment discrimination against people whose cases have been “adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.” An adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, or ACD, is often the fastest way for a criminal case to be dismissed in New York’s backlogged court system, and it is not a conviction. Nevertheless, until the bill we advocated for was signed into law, New Yorkers whose cases ended in an ACD faced rampant employment discrimination.
Now that the Human Rights Law has been amended, the Worker Justice Project is enforcing the new antidiscrimination protections. For example, our client Ms. C was suspended by her employer of several years when she was arrested for a misdemeanor offense. As a result of zealous advocacy by Ms. C’s criminal defense attorney at The Legal Aid Society, the criminal case was resolved with an ACD. After Ms. C notified the employer that her case had been resolved with an ACD, the employer fired her in violation of the newly enacted amendment to the Human Rights Law. The Worker Justice Project immediately contacted the employer, explained that the employer’s conduct was unlawful under the new law, and advised that the Worker Justice Project was prepared to sue the employer if Ms. C was not immediately rehired. As a result of the Worker Justice Project’s advocacy, the employer rehired Ms. C and compensated her for her lost wages. Now, Ms. C is working again and able to provide for her children.
What You Need to Know About Discrimination Based on Arrest and Conviction Records
What You Need to Know About Certificates of Relief & Certificates of Good Conduct
What You Need to Know About Background Checks
What You Need to Know About Background Checks as a Home Health Aide or Certified Nursing Assistant
Contact the Worker Justice Project at WorkerJustice@legal-aid.org or call 888-663-6880 Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.