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Efforts to Protect Jobless From Hiring Bias Spur Debate

Sacramento Bee (01/23/12) Jim Sanders

A newly proposed California bill, AB 1450, would prohibit discriminating against the jobless in hiring. College graduates, military personnel, and women returning to the work force are among groups of people affected by a blanket exclusion, says Michael Allen, a Santa Rose Democrat who is the author of the measure. Opponents of AB 1450 say that lawmakers have no business interfering in companies’ internal affairs and that the bill could prompt a flood of frivolous complaints that would be costly to investigate and difficult to prosecute. Roger Niello, president of the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, warns that barring businesses from disqualifying the jobless could tie a company’s hands in the kinds of questions asked during job interviews.

Under Allen’s bill, complaints about employers would be investigated by the state labor commissioner, while accusations about employment agencies would be handled by city attorneys or the state attorney general’s office. Even if AB 1450 gets derailed, some legal experts say companies should be careful about automatically disqualifying the unemployed. Martha West, professor emerita at the University of California Davis School of Law, says lawsuits could allege discrimination against people of color, who have significantly higher unemployment rates than whites.