Georgia

Georgia Tech Rejects a Qualified Job Applicant Over His Teenage Criminal Record

Benjamin Paul is a single father, a college graduate, an ordained minister, and a career adviser. And he's an ex-con.

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|||Screenshot via YouTube/Love Grace & Mercy
Screenshot via YouTube/Love Grace & Mercy

Benjamin Paul was excited to begin a career adviser position at Georgia Tech on August 1. Now he finds himself without a job because of the crimes he committed nearly 20 years ago as a teenager. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) shared Paul's story.

Paul said that his criminal record "looks real messy on paper." When he was 17 and 18 years old and living in his native Tampa, Florida, Paul sold cocaine and "tried to shake down some junkies for cash." His actions earned him convictions for selling cocaine, possessing a firearm as a delinquent, and two unarmed robberies. He served time for less than a year. After getting out, he moved to Miami for a better life. Since that time, Paul earned his GED, several degrees (associate's, bachelor's, and master's), became an ordained minister, and worked as a career adviser at Miami Dade College for four years. Paul is now 30 years of age and has a daughter in the third grade.

Paul received an offer from Georgia Tech for a position that would have paid him $50,000 a year. To prepare, Paul rented an apartment in a neighborhood that was close to his job and would allow his daughter a chance to attend a "winning school." He received positive references from his superiors at Miami Dade College, like then-college supervisor Nathaniel Gomez. Paul informed the staff of his criminal background. Despite some hesitation in the beginning, his performance was so valued that Gomez told ACJ Paul "had made a name as a positive, dedicated, professional employee." Despite his degrees and "stellar" references, Georgia Tech's HR office informed him earlier in the month that a background check disqualified him for the position.

Hall County Judge Jason Deal, son of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and an advocate for drug courts, told the AJC that stories like Paul's were common. "They get a job and are working the job well, and after 30 days they do a background check and they lose the job. The company says, 'Well, that's the policy,'" he said. Judge Steven Teske, chief judge of the Clayton County juvenile court, criticized the ordeal, saying "This guy for the last 12 years has lived an ideal life, but his name continues to be on a list that serves no purpose for society."

Though Miami Dade College gave Paul a chance, his rejection from Georgia Tech is not a first. While on probation, Paul was tasked with getting a job. He was similarly rejected from entry-level positions at places like Kroger, Target, and UPS after they performed a background check.

Bonus link: Licensing laws have stifled the career development of ex-offenders.

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  1. Question, did the person they took instead, not have any criminal record and was equally or more qualified?

    1. I’m scratching my head a bit at the M.S. and Minister for ‘Career Adviser’.

      I’m sure his sales pitch is better, but it sounds like they want someone who’s worked in several different industries, maybe even for an HR department, possibly launched his own business, and has a pretty good idea of who to get into and excel in professional and corporate culture. Instead, they got someone who avoided the workplace to get his M.S. and then went to the seminary.

      1. but it sounds like they want someone who’s worked in several different industries

        Lol. Something tells me you didn’t get this from the job description.

        1. Lol. Something tells me you didn’t get this from the job description.

          Fair enough. These would be some of the things an actual career adviser would bring to the table. For the guy that GA Tech is going to pay to occupy a desk and holds a fake title, M.S. is probably sufficient.

          1. This guy has been “an actual career advisor” for years, and GA Tech agreed that he was so valuable they wanted to hire him.

            Why are you second-guessing their decision that he was completely qualified for the position? Just because of a bureaucratic policy to kick back anyone with past convictions? Even though you know that policy is unreasonable and unfair? Do you think it is reasonable and fair, or do you just want to be oppositional toward Reason?

            1. I thought we supported organizations having their own requirements for employment. We don’t do that now?

            2. Why are you second-guessing their decision that he was completely qualified for the position? Just because of a bureaucratic policy to kick back anyone with past convictions?

              Where did I say completely unqualified? My point isn’t that he isn’t at all qualified. I was agreeing with what Cy was saying, especially the latter part. His skill set is not unique and hardly exceptional. People lose out on jobs to other candidates, even after hiring, all the time. The idea that this guy’s story is somehow dramatically better or worse because of his felony conviction (and how to resolve the issue) needs more fleshing out.

              Even though you know that policy is unreasonable and unfair? Do you think it is reasonable and fair, or do you just want to be oppositional toward Reason?

              1. Reason is just reporting the facts and that was my criticism. There’s no real stance, by the writer/magazine, to oppose. At best there’s an unspoken assumption of agreed outcome.
              2. If Reason is saying that GA Tech *must* employ this guy, then yes, I oppose Reason. As would most any other libertarian. At least the more liberty-oriented libertarians who don’t idiotically fall for the “I believe in liberty but we should be able to force people and employers to do things.” civil libertarianism half-truth. Unreasonable and unfair is at the employer’s discretion. Not yours or mine.

            3. The problem is that due to the legal climate, you have to have a “policy” and that policy can’t be flexible. Then there’s the “wheat/chaff” problem. You get the guy who has multiple teenage convictions, stays clean for a decade, gets a job and uses his new position to commit new crimes.

              It would be easier if employers could hire/fire at will. That way they could take a guy like this, give him a job and tell him straight up, “You have a record. Any criminal conduct on your part and you are gone… gone… so gone.”

              1. Corporatism, HR, legal pimps, cosmopolitanism (as in values) have come to dominate our environment.
                I 100% blame progressivism.
                All of it is deflection of responsibility, blame shopping, and destruction of individual identity.
                Adaptability is not trained toward betterment or individual growth, but to arbitrary systems that promote mediocrity for the greater consumption of the collective.

                1. Am I a hypocrite for blaming progressivism?
                  No.
                  But it is ironic.

      2. Well, they also got someone who started out as an entrepreneur in the most fast-paced and ruthless sector of the economy. A guy who knows what has to be done to succeed. How to play the game.

        1. In any case, none of what you describe is what a ‘career advisor’ does. Yeah, that does sound like a great writeup on what you’d *like one to do*. But they don’t do that.

          They mostly talk you through ‘what would you like to do’ and then maybe hand you some pamphlets with some outdated industry information on them and tell you to go apply for some jobs.

          1. In any case, none of what you describe is what a ‘career advisor’ does. Yeah, that does sound like a great writeup on what you’d *like one to do*. But they don’t do that.

            I don’t disagree and I admit to leaning heavily into it. My point wasn’t that Paul wasn’t qualified, but that there are plenty of other externalities that go into the decision than can make even a ‘felon, MS, Minister’ vs. ‘felon, MS, Minister’ comparison seem apples to oranges.

  2. So what’s the libertarian proposition/angle here? Make GA Tech give him a job? Eliminate the background check system and force employers to unwittingly hire felons? I get that the guy is qualified and should probably have a job but, I’m just having trouble coming up with an actual Reason (drink) other than teh feelz.

    1. I get that the guy is qualified and should probably have a job but, I’m just having trouble coming up with an actual Reason (drink) other than teh feelz.

      How about “because he’s clearly demonstrated that his teenage criminal record is no longer relevant to expectations of how he would perform”?

      1. How about “because he’s clearly demonstrated that his teenage criminal record is no longer relevant to expectations of how he would perform”?

        Sounds like you should hire him.

        1. Why? I don’t have any open positions for career advisors.

          1. So you’re not in charge of staffing at GA Tech *and* you don’t have a position open? Which means you aren’t giving actual reasons to hire him as much as just pointlessly lamenting his unemployment.

            1. They apparently had their own reasons to hire him, since they, you know, hired him.

              I’m criticizing their decision to fire him as…unreasonable.

              You know, just like you wondered if someone could do. And because someone could, but you wanted to be pissy about this post for reasons you couldn’t articulate, you’re now bitching about it.

              1. I’m criticizing their decision to fire him as…unreasonable.

                So you know their motives for doing so? Because the story doesn’t detail anything one way or the other nor gives any indication that they even attempted to solicit a reason, however unreasonable, from GA Tech. Firing people, no matter how unreasonable, isn’t a crime. So if we’re going to get involved and need to ‘fix’ this issue we need some guiding rational more sensible than just “I really like the guy as he’s portrayed in the story.” He probably is a great guy and they may have fired him unjustly but the fact that he was fired doesn’t validate that hypothesis de facto.

      2. How about “let each employer decide for itself what criminal history is or is not relevant instead of outsiders making the decision for them.”

        Having said that, if Georgia Tech is a public college, there may be state statutes that disqualify applicants with certain criminal records from taking employment there. The college may have had no choice. Interestingly, the same state legislatures that want to ban employers from questioning an applicant’s criminal history past dozens of laws banning people with certain convictions from specific categories of employment.

        1. That is a great point.

        2. On the contrary, there is something that they should have done.
          Perform the background check prior to hire.

          These aren’t difficult. They aren’t lengthy, and they aren’t expensive. There is absolutely no reason not to do it before even interviewing a person. Even if they were expensive enough to prevent that, doing it between the interview and extending the job offer is simple. Letting him get the job, move, and then work for a month before firing him is just downright negligent on the college’s part.

          If he was a good person, then it’s unfair to him. If he was a horrible person who should have legitimately been kept off campus, you just exposed your students to him for a month.

          Human Resources should be terminated for incompetence.

          1. A live scan is simple and inexpensive. Your fingerprints go to the DOJ and they report any convictions on your record, usually well within 30 days. I’d think it would be standard pre-hire procedure. On the other hand, I can’t think of a reason why an employer’s failure to do so would disable the employer from doing so during the probationary period.

      3. Except that the employer decides the expectations of how he would perform and what is relevant to forming those expectations.

        GT is wrong here – but its their money.

      4. If that’s the case, some employer will get an advantage over their competitors by hiring him. It’s their call.

        1. The advantage that employer will get is that they can pay him peanuts to clean toilets or something because no one else will hire him.

          Any sort of criminal record means a life of crappy jobs and crappy housing unless the criminal is able to be self-employed and purchase their home.

          1. Who knew that crime might have a negative impact on your life prospects?

    2. Not “give him the job”, but “remunerate him for what he spent getting a new apartment and moving and some extra to cover having to find a new job” for jerking him around, maybe.

      If he told them about the criminal background, then it was incumbent upon them to do the damned background check before they made him a job offer that he rearranged his life for.

      1. I agree. You should be a writer for a libertarian magazine or something.

      2. NO. Its guaranteed to be a job offer contingent on background check.

        Most people dont read the contracts they sign. This guy should have read the contract and stayed in a hotel until he was settled into that job (background check on his known serious criminal record was complete).

        1. It at least sounds like some intermediary boilerplate for felons seems to be in order. So, the guy could walk in and say “I’m a felon.” and they take the “Straight Hire to FTE” forms off the table and put the “Ex-Con 6 mos. limited liability contract-to-hire” forms on. Because between yourself and the felon, it’s not entirely clear how long a ‘name should be on the list’ and/or whether there’s any way to know when it is/isn’t removed.

        2. *YOU* haven’t even read the contract this guy signed – yet you’re here weighing in on what that contract says?

          1. To be frank, LC is probably right on the hiring being contingent on the background check. That’s fairly standard boilerplate.

            However, they still should have done the background check before hire, much less before he had started work for a month.

        3. “NO. Its guaranteed to be a job offer contingent on background check.”

          Employers have lawyers. Of course that’s the way it works.

    3. Limit company liability for hiring people that are not actively on parole or probation.

      If you are an ex-con and you commit a crime at work, YOU and not the company are liable.

      The big bucks are with getting judgments against companies not individual employees.

      This is almost 99% the lawyers’ fault.

      1. THIS!

        Employers are playing CYA. They don’t want to have to face a jury where the sobbing victim’s attorney accuses them of hiring someone who with a known record of violence and law-breaking.

        1. Yes. It is the tort system that drives most of this.

    4. re: “So what’s the libertarian proposition/angle here?”

      Get rid of the regulations that effectively require slavish consistency with arbitrary rules. For example, the current rule says “if you don’t uniformly fire everyone who fails a background check, then I get to drag you through a costly and punitive lawsuit for firing me.” Yes, the current rule is supposed to allow enough discretion to consider other factors but those other factors (rehabilitation, subsequent work history, etc) are inherently subjective – which means easy to litigate.

      Another way to say it is to get rid of the presumption of discrimination that’s built into almost all employment law and regulatory enforcement.

    5. The problem here is that GT gave him the job, had him start working and fired him on the basis of the background check after he was working and had arranged his life around the new position. That is kind of a problem if he had been upfront about his criminal record when he had accepted the position.

      1. “Position contingent on background check”

        Employers have been hiring people and doing background checks on them a long time. This is not a mystery. They have covered themselves in their employment contracts.

  3. Maybe employers should be given a break if they hire ex-cons, as in not being hit by yuge damages for negligent hiring if the employee fucks up. Otherwise companies will be whipsawed by ex-con advocates on one hand while being expected, at the cost of yuge damages, not to hire the *wrong* ex-cons.

  4. At 17 or 18 he wasn’t smart enough to understand the consequences of shaking down people.

    And some people think 16 is a good age for voting.

    1. Fair observation.

    2. When you’re older you realize how to do a successful shakedown and feel good about your commitment to social justice.

      1. ^^ this.

      2. I knew I should’ve mastered in Climate Science!

      3. Damn, Eddy – you’ve been on fire lately

  5. The lawyers made litigation about ex-cons a losing cost for most companies.

    If every bad action at work was on the employee committing it rather than the company’s fault for hiring said person, this would not even be an issue. The employee breaking the law at work does not bear the sole responsibility for breaking the law. The company does too.

    Its not worth it for companies to take that risk.

    BTW: Most background checks for companies dont go back more than 7 or 12 years. Juvenile records tend to be sealed. There is WAY MORE to this story, as usual.

    1. BTW: Most background checks for companies dont go back more than 7 or 12 years. Juvenile records tend to be sealed. There is WAY MORE to this story, as usual.

      “This guy for the last 12 years has lived an ideal life, but his name continues to be on a list that serves no purpose for society.”

      Is it an actual list? I assume it’s really some manner of centralized and curated database bordering on public record and that the idea that this guy should somehow get special exception from the list, or that people should be able to wipe their own names from the list arbitrarily borders on a ‘right to be forgotten’.

      There’s an added caveat to lots of criminal activity; that even if the criminal themselves aren’t a problem, the lifestyle can follow them around. Who knows where the two junkies he shook down are today and what sort of animosity they may or may not feel towards him now. It’s exceedingly likely that this guy’s in the clear, but if he was convicted in a court of law 50 yrs. ago, he doesn’t exactly have the right to have that information scrubbed from everywhere and forever.

      1. These companies hire companies to do background checks. The states and FBI that control those databases release certain info based on how far back it is.

        If you have a criminal conviction in Florida, the FL agency that controls their database might release juvenile criminal records for certain offenses while the same agency for Ohio might not.

        I would say violent crime is flagged to be released easier than say possession of illegal exotic animals.

        The Constitution does authorize government to keep lists on people but the government has run past explicit authorization for certain things to include lists for everything. These lists would include military members, naturalized citizens, objects of letters of marque and retribution, trademarks and patents holders, Census, etc.

        1. “If you have a criminal conviction in Florida, the FL agency that controls their database might release juvenile criminal records for certain offenses while the same agency for Ohio might not.”

          And that’s assuming we are even talking a bout juvenile criminal records. at 17+, even 12 years ago, given the charges at issue it’s entirely possible, and not all that improbable, that he was tried as an adult. And if he was tried as an adult, it doesn’t count as a “juvenile criminal record”

          1. At least one of those crimes was when he was an adult – and it was related to the offenses at 17, so they would have been at least considered in sentencing as an adult. I am quite surprised that 2 counts of unarmed robbery didn’t get him more than 1 year in prison, adult or juvenile…

        2. Most background checks are done through the state and through DOJ using the livescan process.

    2. “Most background checks for companies dont go back more than 7 or 12 years.”

      And his conviction is right at 12 years old.”

      “Juvenile records tend to be sealed.”

      These days even 15 year olds can be tried as adults in many states when violent felonies are involved. Even a decade and a half ago, given the charges, there is a good chance he was tried as an adult, not in juvenile court.

    3. Juvenile records are rarely sealed unless specifically petitioned for. I thought you said you were a lawyer of some sort?

      1. True, but unless the conviction is for a felony involving incarceration it is a simple process. In this case it likely would not have been. Not all petitions to seal records are granted.

        1. It wouldn’t be granted when he committed a related crime about a year later at 18.

  6. damages for the move and hire –> fire?

  7. I wonder about this. From a libertarian perspective, what a person puts into his or her body should be his or her own business. Therefore the laws criminalizing drugs and activity associated with drugs (distribution, manufacture, etc) are invalid laws and any punishment associated with breaking those laws is also invalid. In this particular case, the ‘shake-down’ activity (I’m assuming its assault and/or battery) would not be invalid, though you could argue that had the drugs been legal there wouldn’t have been a shake-down (maybe). Just wondering and thinking out loud.

    1. This is a tough case and a good one to consider on this issue because he committed a real crime. Employers have every right to hold your once having robbed people against you.

      That said, I really think criminal records ought to go away after about ten years if you have not committed another crime. If you can go a decade without getting in trouble again, I think you have proven that you learned your lesson and deserve to have whatever crime you committed put behind you.

      1. In my mind the only crime he committed was whatever the shakedown was. The other actions he was convicted of are victimless ‘crimes’ and shouldn’t be on the books to begin with. It’s absurd to still hold that against him especially since he has obviously righted his ship.

        Yes, I have no problem with convictions being expunged or whatever the correct term is, especially if you’ve gone that long without being convicted of another crime, though perhaps there should be different rules for violent crimes (though of course the politicians would fuck that up too).

        1. They should go away after you have served your sentence and lived so many years without committing another crime. It would give people a reason to believe that they can do better and motivation not to commit another crime. If someone is a lifetime criminal, they won’t go ten months without committing another crime much less ten years

          1. Generally speaking, expungement works one of two ways. If you were convicted of a misdemeanor that can be “expunged” by having it reduced to an infraction (hence, no longer a criminal conviction). A felony normally cannot be expunged because of the seriousness of a felony conviction.

      2. Juveniles can get their records sealed or even expunged. Why not adults? After a certain time, based on the crime, the records should be expunged.

        I had an “incident” with the police back in the sixth grade, which was supposedly expunged when I turned 18. Almost fifty years later I still sometimes worry that HR will find out about it and boot my ass out the door.

        1. It wouldn’t be expunged, technically speaking, but your record should be sealed which means it cannot be opened absent a showing of probable cause before a judge (I don’t care how many times Erin Reagan gets juvenile records opened without even leaving her office)

      3. That said, I really think criminal records ought to go away after about ten years if you have not committed another crime. If you can go a decade without getting in trouble again, I think you have proven that you learned your lesson and deserve to have whatever crime you committed put behind you.

        Does not compute. If there are crimes heinous enough to kill people for then it seems like there should be crimes that follow people around for the rest of their lives. Moreover, 10 yrs. from the date of the crime, 10 yrs. from the date of conviction, or 10 yrs. from the date of release?

        Arrest and conviction records are public records. If the background check agency only goes back 10-12 yrs. for expediency, that’s their prerogative. Otherwise, records expunged upon death and maybe not even then. Possibly, some manner of ‘deep search’ or archiving criteria whereby the name/incident doesn’t show up for more broad or routine searches but is available upon more specific request.

        Not that any of it matters much anyway as there are plenty of systematic flaws (In addition to this one if you consider it as such). There’s apparently a non-zero chance that you can be dishonorably discharged from the military, buy a gun, and shoot up a Church.

    2. There’s also the time factor here. He did the crime two decades previously and appears to have been a model citizen since getting out of jail. Even without the ‘drugs should have been legal in the first place’ angle, at some point you have to say that a dude is not the same idiotic person as he was when he was a teenager.

      1. Well said

      2. While I don’t disagree that he hasn’t demonstrated himself to be an upstanding citizen, robbery is a violent crime. Again, not trying to ‘indict’ this guy specifically on these charges as his time has been served but violent crimes against both person and property shouldn’t be dismissed or lumped in with ‘drug crimes’ by libertarians.

        1. While I don’t disagree that he hasn’t demonstrated himself to be an upstanding citizen

          I think I fucked myself with the negatives. He has clearly been reformed and *I* don’t think he should be punished any further for his crimes.

  8. Here is the libertarian perspective:
    “Note to all applicants for study and/or employment at Georgia Tech. They do not have enough sense to do a background check on a person who is already employed BEFORE they extend a job offer. Take that into account before any interactions with Georgia Tech.”
    Now all libertarians are aware of the GT employment practices; let the free market leave them without employees.

    General note; do not accept any job offers that are at all conditional. If there is a probationary period, language like “pending background check” or “pending security clearance”, it is not a job offer, it is a con job.

    Final thought: $50,000/yr for a job in Atlanta that requires a masters degree is chump change.

    1. $50k/yr is on the level of what a freshman high school teacher with a masters can make. Academia offers benefits other than direct salary.

  9. I think the negligence is on the University’s part. Why on EARTH would you do a background check AFTER hire? That’s beyond absurd. That’s downright Wonderland-logic, as he had already moved and started his new life and job.

    1. Because they don’t want to spend the money for the check on someone who might not take the job.

  10. He lost a job because a background check revealed information he had previously disclosed?

    W T F

  11. “When he was 17 and 18 years old and living in his native Tampa, Florida, Paul sold cocaine and “tried to shake down some junkies for cash.” ”

    If you are being just a stupid shit, then your life of crime usually ends when you get popped. I’m making a guess that he was arrested when he was 18 and tried as the adult he was.

    I agree with most on the thread. If you have kept out of trouble, got your life together, then you should get another chance.

  12. crimes he committed nearly 20 years ago

    When he was 17 and 18 years old…
    Paul is now 30 years of age

    is this the new math I have been hearing about?

    1. “nearly 20” made The Narrative sound better

      As Teen Talk Barbie would say, “Math class is tough!”

  13. I thought libertarians believed in freedom of association or non-association. Can’t employers decide who to hire?

    If you have a criminal record, you should be upfront about it with potential employers, to save yourself some time and expense of the ex post background check.

    1. Well, someone didn’t read the story.

  14. From the article linked:
    “Never mind that Paul’s crimes ? felonies that he had admitted to the university ? were 12 years ago or earlier, occurring when he was 17 and 18. ”

    From this article:
    “Now he finds himself without a job because of the crimes he committed nearly 20 years ago as a teenager. ”
    “Paul is now 30 years of age …”

    12 years ago is not “nearly 20 years ago”.

    Reason is such a fucking clown show.

    1. buy buy, the article was written by a graduate from a institution of higher learning and was trained to only count the words written by which he is paid. Not to add or subtract significant numbers.

  15. “Paul is now 30 years of age and has a daughter in the third grade.”

    Please tell me I’m not the only person thoroughly sick of “But they have children! People with children should be exempt from negative consequences of their actions!

  16. it is not the fact that HR people turned him down. The real reason is that the HR fraternity does not interview the prospects at all. Thanks to the indoctrination they receive where they went to school they can only decide based on what is on the almighty resume. This is what the HR persons were taught since the early 1970s. That and the fact that personal recommendations from previous employers is , by law, not permitted to give anything but a soft evaluation as a hard one might hurt the applicants feelings. Since that is the case HR no longer appraises the applicants personally and only uses the info available on line.

  17. If you can’t do the job rejections, don’t do the crime.

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