WATERLOO — A state business group is asking the court to strike down a city ordinance that would prevent private employers from inquiring about criminal backgrounds on job applications.
On Jan. 2, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry filed for an injunction in Black Hawk County District Court to head off Waterloo’s “ban the box” rule, which is scheduled to begin in July.
“The ordinance is one of the broadest criminal-history ordinances in the country, going well beyond any regulation of hiring practices under state or federal law,” Iowa ABI officials said in a prepared statement. “It doesn’t just affect when an employer can inquire about an applicant’s criminal history; it also forbids employers from considering criminal history at all in some circumstances.”
The Waterloo City Council passed the ban the box ordinance in November on a 4-3 vote. The measure would prohibit businesses from asking job candidates about their criminal history until later in the hiring process. Proponents say the ordinance allows people with a criminal past to have a fair chance at landing jobs.
According to Iowa ABI’s petition, the group warned city officials before the vote the ordinance would violate a 2017 state law that ABI championed prohibiting cities from adopting ordinances that “exceed or conflict with the requirements of federal or state law … relating to hiring practices.”
Iowa ABI, represented by attorney Ryan Koopmans of Des Moines, is asking the court to prevent the city from enforcing the ordinance and declare that it violates Iowa Code.
The city hasn’t filed a response to the petition in court.
Mayor Quentin Hart declined to address the lawsuit Monday, saying the city typically does not comment on pending litigation. The City Council had yet to hold an executive session at this point to discuss the situation.
The petition for injunction names as defendants the city of Waterloo, as well as the city’s Human Rights Commission and City Attorney Martin Petersen, who would be responsible for enforcing the ordinance.
About 1,500 companies are members of Iowa ABI, which has the goal of sustaining a business climate that fosters new jobs and economic growth in the state.
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