California is suing a Kroger unit for rejecting job applicants with criminal records, according to Reuters

© Reuters. An employee returns to a Kroger Co-owned Ralphs grocery store ahead of the company’s results in Pasadena, California, U.S., December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/ File Photo

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) – California filed a lawsuit on Thursday against subsidiary Kroger (NYSE: ) Co . Ralph’s Grocery Co accused her of violating state law by screening hundreds of job applicants based on their criminal history.

The lawsuit, filed in state court by the California Civil Rights Division (CRD), accuses Ralph’s of violating a 2018 law that prohibits most employers from asking job applicants about their criminal records before offering them a job.

The lawsuit seeks damages for disabled job seekers, lost wages and benefits, and mental and emotional distress and punitive damages.

Ralph’s, which operates more than 180 grocery stores in California, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kevin Kish, the agency’s director, said in a statement that the law provides essential protections to millions of people with criminal records.

“We cannot expect people to magically gain the economic and housing stability needed to reintegrate into their communities and stay out of the criminal justice system without a fair chance at stable employment,” he said.

The agency said the lawsuit is the first ever filed under the law, known as the Fair Chance Act. The law also states that employers can reject potential employees based on their criminal history only if their conviction is directly related to employment.

The agency said it has investigated hundreds of complaints alleging violations of the Fair Chance Act since the law was passed and secured about 70 settlements, including $100,000 stand-alone settlements with a fire protection district and a construction company.

The agency said it could not reach a settlement with Ralph’s, prompting it to sue.