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Before and After Ban the Box: Who Complies with Anti-Discrimination Law?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 December 2021


Ban the Box (BTB) laws are an anti-discrimination policy intended to promote employment for persons with criminal records. However, research on law and organizations shows that firms often fail to comply with legal directives or engage in symbolic compliance that fails to alter day-to-day business practices. We consider whether BTB contributed to attitudinal or behavioral shifts among hiring managers and changes in job applications. We analyze a unique set of in-depth interviews (N = 30) and entry-level job applications (N = 305) collected from the same workplaces in 2008 and 2016, assessing the impact of state BTB legislation. We find: (1) that one in five organizations were noncompliant, with noncompliance twice as likely among employers who discriminated against applicants with criminal records pre-BTB and that widespread lack of knowledge and lack of enforcement of BTB appears to affect noncompliance; (2) organizations maintained considerable continuity in hiring practices and attitudes between 2008 and 2016, regardless of personnel changes and statewide implementation of BTB; and (3) post-BTB, strong warnings about criminal background checks at later stages of the hiring process emerged as an alternative source of gatekeeping. These findings contribute to the law and organizations literature by highlighting the importance of enforcement and limits of law for combating discrimination.

© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Bar Foundation

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This research was supported by grants from the JEHT Foundation and the National Institute of Justice. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2016 American Society of Criminology Annual Meeting and the 2017 American Sociological Association Annual Meeting. We are grateful for support from the Council on Crime and Justice, for manuscript comments from Jeylan Mortimer, Joshua Page, Joe Soss, Robert Stewart, and Veronica Horowitz, and to Chelsea Carlson and Chloe Hendrix for unparalleled research assistance. We also thank the three anonymous reviewers, whose sound critiques and suggestions greatly improved this article, and the late Devah Pager, who provided guidance on the data instruments.



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