The state Supreme Court has sided with a woman who was permanently barred from working in child care because of a criminal conviction.
Christal Fields tried to steal a purse in 1988, when she was addicted to drugs, and was convicted of attempted robbery. Decades later, after getting clean, she landed a job in a child care center, but the state Department of Early Learning permanently disqualified her when it found out about her past conviction.
Now, the court said that violated her constitutional right to due process.
“The undisputed facts underlying Fields’ 1988 conviction do not indicate that she was likely to pose a danger to children for the rest of her life,” the court said in its decision.
Fields said she's ecstatic.
“I’m just happy that even when people think there’s a 'no,’ there’s a 'yes’ somewhere,” she said. “And I’m glad that my voice will be one voice that was heard for 1,000 people. I just can’t imagine how many people it affected.”
It's not guaranteed Fields will be allowed to work in child care again, but the court says she's entitled to a hearing about why she should be able to.
Vanessa Torres Hernandez is the youth policy director with ACLU of Washington, which represented Fields. She said removing barriers to employment for people who have fulfilled their sentences for past convictions is important.
“People can and do change and shouldn’t be categorically denied the chance to work in their chosen profession based on convictions that aren’t connected to their present ability to do their jobs,” Torres Hernandez said.
In a dissenting opinion, four justices said this will place a big burden on the department as other people ask for individualized consideration.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Children, Youth, and Families — which has replaced the Department of Early Learning — said the agency is still reviewing the decision and evaluating its impact.