Natural Black hair styles are still seen as deviant and unprofessional in many settings, and a recent court ruling might make it even harder to fight back against discrimination.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against a company called Catastrophe Management Solutions. The ruling is that refusing to hire someone because of their dreadlocks (or locks) hairstyle is legal.
The lawsuit was filed by the EEOC on behalf of Chastity Jones, whose job offer was rescinded by Catastrophe Management Solutions, a Mobile, Alabama-based company. According to the case file, Jeannie Wilson, a human resources manager for the company, made a comment about Jones’ dreadlocks during a private hiring meeting to discuss scheduling. She told Jones, “They tend to get messy, although I’m not saying yours are, but you know what I’m talking about.” Wilson then told Jones that the company would not hire Jones if he did not change his hairstyle.
In the lawsuit, the EEOC claimed that this was a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s Title VII. They argued in court that dreadlocks are a “racial characteristic” that have been historically used to stereotype African-Americans as “not team players” and as unfit for the workplace. Therefore, claiming that dreadlocks do not fit a grooming policy is based on these stereotypes and inherently discriminatory, as dreadlocks are a hairstyle “physiologically and culturally associated” with people of African descent.
The court of appeals, however, disagreed and ruled that CMS’s “race-neutral grooming policy” was not discriminatory as hairstyles, while “culturally associated with race,” are not “immutable physical characteristics.” They said, in essence, traits in a person’s appearance that are tied to their culture but are otherwise changeable are not protected and can be used to deny job offers.
This lawsuit is not the only defeat when it comes to the dreadlock hairstyle. Restrictions against dreadlocks have also been implemented in various school districts across the country. For example, Butler Traditional High School in Louisville, Kentucky has an official dress code that specifically prohibits “dreadlocks, cornrows, and twists.”