StarTek fires felons over contract

More than two-dozen employees have been handed a pink slip by StarTek because of their past criminal history.

Dismissed employees contacted by The Daily Sentinel said StarTek, 630 S. Seventh St., had full knowledge of their convictions before they were hired and that they had worked for the company for years. The employees said they were let go because of a contract

StarTek has with AT&T. A security clause in the contract does not allow for employees to have certain types of convictions on their records from misdemeanors to felonies, according to many of the ex-employees. StarTek would not confirm that the contract was with AT&T.

“The client recently clarified our contract obligations with them,” said Sue Morse, vice president of human resources for StarTek.

Rosemary Hanratty, a company spokeswoman, said “around 30 people” lost their jobs.
Most of the fired workers signed confidentiality agreements and received a week’s pay as severance.

Others, like Theresa Martinez, 31, a single mother with an 8-year-old son, chose not to sign.

She said she had been jailed as a result of her drug use when she was younger. Child protective services took away her child. When she was released from jail, she landed a job with StarTek. Thanks to her stable job, she was able to find a decent apartment, get her son back and turn her life around, she said.

“Tuesday morning they said, ‘We’re sorry. We have to fire you because you have a felony on your record,” Martinez said. “I was really kind of devastated.”

Martinez said she has retained a lawyer and is looking to sue StarTek because the company knew of the criminal background clause in the AT&T contract before she was hired, she said.

“AT&T has a contract with StarTek, and in its contract it is clearly defined that AT&T doesn’t want felons,” she said. “The problem is that they were in breach of their own contract. We in the crossfire lost our jobs.”

Carrie Carter, 32, a single mother of two who moved here in December to work for
StarTek, worked for the company once before and was welcomed back. She was rehired and was a standout employee.

“I have about 15 to 20 awards to show my customer service for AT&T,” she said.
What she does not have is a felony.

“It was a misdemeanor,” she said.

Carter said she had an outstanding fine of $200, which she said she paid a day after being fired. When she tries to tell her former employers at StarTek that her record is now clear, no one at StarTek returns her calls, she said.

“It had nothing to do with my job performance or my quality,” Carter said.

Clinton Jensen, 26, is a resident at the community corrections facility on South Avenue and Seventh Street. He and seven of his fellow inmates (along with three residents of
the county’s work-release program, on the corner of Sixth Street and Pitkin Avenue) at the facility are also looking for new jobs. “There’s nothing we can do,” Jensen said.

His mother, Amy French, is driving Jensen to various job interviews every day.

“I think it was a bad deal. They didn’t do anything to lose their jobs,” French said.

Her son was jailed for involvement with methamphetamine. He was transitioning out of jail and would have been eligible to get an apartment of his own soon. Now his progress out of the justice system seems to be in jeopardy.

“I just think it is unfair,” she said.

Unfair? Perhaps, but not against the law, said Bill Thoennes, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

“Although it doesn’t seem fair the workers are probably not entitled to any regressive grievances for being fired. Colorado, being a hire-at-will state, means that the employer can terminate individuals without any specific reason for the termination,” Thoennes said. “The employer, I suppose, would argue that if they are now engaged in some type of a contract with a company that has a problem with ex-felons that they are doing it as a business need. The fact that they had hired these individuals knowing of their felony convictions would not be a kind of contract between the employer and employees that could not be changed at any point in time.”

The fired can apply for unemployment insurance, though, he said.

Many current StarTek employees refused to comment on the recent firings, saying they feared repercussions.

“I’d love to (comment),” said one anonymous employee. “But I want to keep my job.”

“I think it is really unfortunate,” said an employee who spoke on the record, but The Daily Sentinel chose not to identify the person. “The people that I know that did (get fired) were hard workers. They were people with the best qualities. They never missed a day of work, and now they are laid off.”

Morse said StarTek officials are looking to see if employees in other locations also need to be fired. In the United States, StarTek is headquartered in Denver and has 19 locations around the nation, Canada and the Philippines.

According to StarTek’s Web site, the company’s first-quarter revenue this year was $70.7 million, up 9.5 percent from the first quarter of 2008.


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