116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
WATERLOO — The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday upheld part of the city of Waterloo’s “ban the box” ordinance, which prohibits employers from considering a job applicant’s criminal record early in the hiring process.
But the justices struck down a portion of the law that barred employers — with 15 or more employees — from making adverse hiring decisions based solely on a criminal record or pending charges.
Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart said the city was encouraged by the ruling.
"Our communities are faced with hiring challenges and an overall labor shortage,“ he said.
”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," he said.
The Waterloo City Council adopted the ordinance — the first of its kind in Iowa — in November 2019 in a 4-3 vote.
The Iowa Association of Business and Industry sued the city before the ordinance took effect, arguing the ordinance violated state law that prevents cities and counties from adopting laws that exceed state laws on businesses and employment matters.
A district court judge in Black Hawk County sided with the city in an April 2020 ruling, and the business association appealed the decision.
In the Friday ruling, Justice Edward Mansfield, writing for the five-justice majority, wrote that Waterloo preventing early questions about a job applicant’s criminal history does not conflict with the state law.
The city’s ban-the-box ordinance “merely delays an inquiry into criminal history (and) is not prescribing different terms or conditions of employment," he wrote.
Friday’s ruling “is an important partial win for local efforts to protect against race discrimination in hiring,“ said Shefali Aurora, an attorney with ACLU of Iowa, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.
"Research shows that even though ban-the-box requirements like Waterloo’s don’t control an employer’s hiring decisions, they do successfully increase the hiring rates of people with criminal records because they allow employers to better and more objectively evaluate an applicant’s qualifications before becoming aware of a criminal history," Aurora said.
Waterloo has the highest percentage of Black residents — about 16 percent — of any Iowa city.
The Waterloo Commission on Human Rights pushed for the ordinance to address discrimination in hiring, noting Blacks and other minority populations are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.