Lawsuit claims Macy’s discriminates against people with minor criminal histories

One of Macy’s 800 nationwide locations is located at the Queens Place mall in Elmhurst.  Eagle  file photo by Katie Finkowski.

One of Macy’s 800 nationwide locations is located at the Queens Place mall in Elmhurst. Eagle file photo by Katie Finkowski.

By David Brand

When Kenny Borges was hired by Macy’s to work in the fine jewelry department at their Bay Plaza store near Co-op City, he was energized by the opportunity, and relieved to have a job that could support his family.

“It was hard to keep up with my daughters needs — diapers, food — and the needs of my wife and myself,” said Borges, a 23-year-old Bronx resident.

Things started off well for Borges — until he got a call from HR after a few days on the job.

“One morning I was excited to get to work and I get told by manager, ‘HR wants to speak to you,’” he said. “She notified me, ‘They’re going to suspend you during a background investigation.’”

That background investigation revealed that Borges was charged with trespassing and theft of services after he was arrested for not paying the $2.75 subway fare, he said. Macy’s fired him in October 2017 and refused to rehire him, even after he went to court and received a disposition from a judge, he said.

Borges said he can empathize with the plaintiffs in a civil rights lawsuit filed against Macy’s in Manhattan federal court on June 26. The Fortune Society and former Macy’s employee Jenetta Rolfer, a Minnesota woman who was fired because of a 10-year-old public nuisance misdemeanor, filed the complaint alleging that Macy’s “rejects job applicants, revokes job offers, and terminates the employment of people with criminal histories, even when the applicants’ and employees’ convictions are old, minor, and/or unrelated to the positions at issue.” 

“Collateral consequences from convictions, such as discriminatory hiring policies, serve only to further punish and marginalize already vulnerable communities,” said Fortune Society President and CEO JoAnne Page in a statement. “All applicants deserve to be evaluated based on the qualifications necessary to perform the job, independent of any justice history.”

There are more than 800 Macy’s locations in the United States, including three in Queens — at the Queens Center and Queens Place malls, as well as one in Flushing. 

Borges said his termination caused significant stress and took a toll on his relationship. He has since divorced his wife. 

He said Macy’s unfairly treated him, even after he showed them court paperwork that the charge would be cleared from his record. He recently passed background check at another retail store where he now works, he said.

But Macy’s wouldn’t budge.

“They had me wait a month or so and I really thought I was going to get my job back,” Borges said. “I showed them [the disposition] and they said ‘No.’”

“I did everything you asked me to do and still you denied me a job that has nothing to do what you saw in the background,” he added. “I started talking to people and they agreed — they shouldn’t be treating people like that.”

Macy’s Chief Diversity Officer Shawn Outler told the Eagle that Macy’s does not comment on pending litigation “as a matter of company policy.”

“Macy’s, Inc. is committed to an inclusive work culture that supports our company’s core values – Acceptance, Integrity, Respect and Giving Back,” Outler said. “We are committed to ensuring the safety and security of our colleagues and customers, securing proprietary business information, and safeguarding confidential customer, colleague and company data.”

Outler said many employees, including senior leadership and “fine jewelry colleagues” are subject to background checks and that the company complies with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations and local laws. 

Correction: This story originally referred to Borges as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.