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By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, Jan 27 (Reuters) - A federal judge said Amazon.com Inc and its Whole Foods unit can be sued over the refusal to hire a convicted murderer who claimed to be rehabilitated after nearly 23 years in prison.
In a Wednesday night decision, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan said Henry Franklin could pursue a proposed class action after being turned down for a grocery delivery job at Cornucopia Logistics, which serves Amazon and Whole Foods.
Amazon determined after a background check that Franklin had lied on his April 2019 job application by answering "no" when asked if he had a criminal record.
New York law bars employers from rejecting job applicants based on their criminal histories unless the crimes relate directly to the jobs sought, or hirings would pose an unreasonable risk to the public.
Without ruling on the merits, Caproni said the defendants failed to show that either exception applied, adding that Franklin "has adequately alleged that he is rehabilitated and no longer poses a threat to the public."
She also said she was "sympathetic to defendants' likely position that they do not want a convicted murderer delivering groceries to their customers' homes."
The defendants and their lawyers did not immediately respond on Thursday to requests for comment. Franklin's lawyers did not immediately respond to similar requests.
Amazon and Whole Foods had argued that Franklin's lie was reason enough turn him down, and he lacked standing to sue them because neither was his "prospective" employer.
Caproni called Franklin's pleading on the latter issue "barely" sufficient.
According to court papers, Franklin was convicted of second-degree murder in June 1995 and paroled in June 2018.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Amazon and Whole Foods job applicants in New York state and New York City with criminal records.
The case is Franklin v Whole Foods Market Group Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 20-04935. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Bill Berkrot)