Amazon, Whole Foods can be sued for declining to hire convicted murderer, judge rules

A federal judge in New York ruled Wednesday that Amazon and Whole Foods can be sued for declining to hire a man who served nearly 25 years in prison for second-degree murder.

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Henry Franklin filed a class action lawsuit against Whole Foods, Amazon and Cornucopia Logistics in 2020, alleging employment discrimination based on his criminal history. Under New York law, employers can reject job applicants based on their criminal histories only when past convictions relate directly to their fitness or ability to work or when hiring them would pose an unreasonable risk to people or property.

Franklin had applied in April 2019 for a job as a delivery worker with Cornucopia, a company that contracts with Amazon to deliver for its Whole Foods grocery chain. Court records show his application was rejected two weeks later based on a background check he had to undergo as part of the employment application process.

Attorneys for Whole Foods and Amazon filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Franklin had lied about his criminal history on his job application and that they could not be sued because neither company was his prospective employer.

In an opinion and order filed Wednesday in court, Caproni denied the motion, writing that Franklin had “barely” argued sufficiently that Amazon and Whole Foods had enough control over who got hired at Cornucopia to consider them among Franklin’s prospective employers. However, the judge added, “Whether (Franklin) can sustain that position at summary judgment remains to be seen.”

Caproni also rejected arguments made by the companies over their motivation for rejecting Franklin’s application. In her order, she wrote that it was too early in the process to consider the reasons for the companies’ decision, which are “more appropriately considered on a motion for summary judgment or at trial.”

“Nothing suggests that Franklin’s criminal conviction has any bearing on his fitness or ability to deliver groceries,” she wrote.

“The court is sympathetic to defendants’ likely position that they do not want a convicted murderer delivering groceries to their customers’ homes. But considering the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to Franklin, he has adequately alleged that he is rehabilitated and no longer poses a threat to the public.”

Franklin was convicted of second-degree murder in June 1995, Reuters reported. He was paroled in 2018, according to court records.