Henry Franklin, a convicted murderer who served 23 years in prison for his crime, was rejected for a job delivering groceries on behalf of grocery store Whole Foods. 

Now, a federal judge is saying that Franklin has grounds to sue the supermarket chain, along with its parent company, Amazon. 

According to wire reports, Franklin is suing the retail giant for allegedly rejecting his application based on his criminal history — a violation of New York state labor law. 

Amazon had previously sought to get the case tossed out, claiming it decided not to hire the ex-con because he lied on his job application, not because of his prison stint. 

But on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni ruled in the felon’s favor,  greenlighting his request to pursue a class action lawsuit seeking unspecified damages. She did not issue a ruling on the merits of Franklin’s case, which will be litigated in the months to come. 

Henry Franklin said Amazon rejected his job application for a Whole Foods delivery job just because he has a criminal record.
Henry Franklin said Amazon rejected his job application for a Whole Foods delivery job just because he has a criminal record. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Henry Franklin Suit to Move Forward

Reports indicate that in 2019, Franklin applied for a job with Cornucopia Logistics in New York City, which contracts with Whole Foods to deliver grocery orders to customers’ homes. 

On the application, he reportedly wrote “no” when asked if he had a criminal record — despite the fact that Franklin had been paroled the year prior after serving more than two decades for a 1995 second-degree murder conviction. 

More information on the facts of that case were not immediately available on Thursday. 

Amazon rejected Franklin’s job application and told him he had failed their internal background check. In response, the ex-con turned to the courts. On his own behalf, and on the behalf of any other felons who may have been denied employment by Amazon, Franklin filed a class action lawsuit. 

Lawyers for Franklin have argued that the retailer turned him away solely based on his criminal history. Under New York state law, employers are forbidden to reject an applicant for having a prior conviction, unless the nature of their crime relates directly to the job, or if hiring them would invite “unreasonable risk.”

In New York, employers like Amazon can't reject ex-con applicants like Henry Franklin based solely on their criminal records.
In New York, employers like Amazon can’t reject ex-con applicants like Henry Franklin based solely on their criminal records, except in certain cases. This wasn’t one of those cases, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Judge Won’t Budge on Amazon

For their part, attorneys for Amazon and Whole Foods said they didn’t turn Franklin down for having a criminal record, but because he lied about having one on the application to begin with. 

Judge Caproni didn’t buy it. “The court is sympathetic to defendants’ likely position that they do not want a convicted murderer delivering groceries to their customers’ homes,” the federal judge wrote in a 19-page ruling issued in Manhattan on Wednesday

But Franklin “has adequately alleged that he is rehabilitated and no longer poses a threat to the public,” she continued

Amazon and Whole Foods, meanwhile, didn’t meet any of the statutory requirements to deny his application, Judge Caproni wrote. 

A federal judge in Manhattan ruled Wednesday that Henry Franklin can move forward with his discrimination suit against Amazon.
A federal judge in Manhattan ruled Wednesday that Henry Franklin can move forward with his discrimination suit against Amazon. Photo credit: Shutterstock

For one, the nature of the job he applied for had nothing to do with his crime. ““He was never convicted of a vehicular offense,” the judge observed

For another, Franklin’s employment wouldn’t impose an “unreasonable risk” to the company, its property, or the greater public, Caproni continued. 

But what about his answer on the job application? The judge said that while Amazon and Whole Foods may have had grounds to turn Franklin away for giving a false statement about his criminal past, that will have to be decided at a later date, now that the suit has been cleared to move forward. 

Amazon’s vast public relations department reportedly did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters and Bloomberg on Thursday.