A 53-year-old Seattle man has become one of the first to sue the state for compensation for his wrongful conviction, time served in prison, and his inability to secure long-term employment. The Seattle P-I reports that James Simmons, a former IT professional who was charged, convicted and served a year in jail for dealing cocaine, is taking advantage of Wrongful Convictions Compensation Act which provides wrongfully convicted inmates financial compensation for time served. Simmons had worked in IT for 30 years when he was arrested on suspicion of selling cocaine. As can be expected, his felony drug conviction lost him his security clearance and his job and got him a year in jail. But that is not where Simmons story ends.
After Simmons served his time, he discovered that the arresting officer had been discharged for dishonesty, which led to a review of Simmons’ case. The review resulted in Simmons’ exoneration. Unfortunately, being exonerated did not right the wrongs of his arrest. Without security clearance and with a felony conviction, Simmons had a difficult time finding work in his field. Being exonerated vacated his felony conviction, but it did not erase the arrest or the charges which are part of the public record. Since that information is part of the public record, Simmons’ potential employers find it when they run background checks on him and it prevents him from getting hired. Or so he is claiming in his lawsuit against the state. Simmons is currently homeless, unemployed and wants assistance from the state to get back on his feet. The Wrongful Convictions Compensation Act could do what unemployment benefits cannot for Simmons in this situation.
As we have noted in previous posts, employers are permitted to run criminal background checks on potential employees. In Seattle, employers must wait until after the initial application screening process before running a background check due to the “Job Assistance Bill.” However, there are no laws that specifically and clearly prevent an employer from discriminating against those who have a criminal history or criminal conviction since most employers can find compelling reasons to exclude those with a criminal record. Simmons’ situation is a good example of what can happen when a person has a criminal record, even if no conviction occurred or the conviction was vacated. What makes matters worse for Simmons is that his situation and his firing do not qualify him for unemployment benefits.
Unemployment benefits are meant to assist a person who has lost a job and is currently looking for new employment. Washington’s unemployment benefits are only available to those who meet specific requirements. While cases are evaluated on an individual basis, the general requirements are:
-You worked at least 680 hours worked during the year.
-Unemployment was not your fault.
-You are able, available, and legally allowed to work.
-You are looking for work.
If you believe you are entitled to unemployment benefits or need advice about how unemployment benefits may apply to your situation, an employment attorney can help.