Here’s a legal ruling that looks to have an immediate and negative impact on a lot of folks … Black and non-Black, for that matter. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 that banning employees from wearing their hair in dreadlocks is not a form of racial discrimination.
The legal ruling grew out of a lawsuit, filed in 2013, that was brought to the court of appeals by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC represented Charity Jones who charged that Catastrophe Management Solutions, an Alabama insurance claims processing company had discriminated against her in 2010 when she applied to work for them.
Jones was initially offered a job, but was told that she would have to do away with her dreadlocks based on the company’s grooming standards which stated that dreadlocks “tend to get messy.” The end result was that Jones refused to change her hair and company withdrew their hiring offer.
The EEOC’s position was” “prohibition of dreadlocks in the workplace constitutes race discrimination because dreadlocks are a manner of wearing the hair that is physiologically and culturally associated with people of African descent.” The EEOC even went so far as to say that “if a white person chose to wear dreadlocks as a sign of racial support for her Black colleagues, and the employer applied its dreadlocks ban to that person, she too could assert a race-based disparate treatment claim.”
Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan, who wrote the appellate opinion, wrote that it was true that the definition of race could shift over time but that the court was not prepared to blaze a new path that they were not sure the law covered.
“We would be remiss,” he wrote, “if we did not acknowledge that, in the last several decades, there have been some calls for courts to interpret Title VII more expansively by eliminating the biological conception of ‘race’ and encompassing cultural characteristics associated with race.”
“As far as we can tell, every court to have considered the issue has rejected the argument that Title VII protects hairstyles culturally associated with race.”
An EEOC spokeswoman told Law Blog: “We believe the court was incorrect when it held that the employer’s actions could not be proven to be race discrimination. We are reviewing our options.”
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