Appeals Court Rules That Employees Don’t Have Right To Wear Dreadlocks And Banning Them Isn’t Racial Discrimination

September 20, 2016  |  



It seems that if you’re trying to get a job in this day and age, you might really have to be concerned about your hair choices. A federal appeals court recently ruled in a 3-0 decision that refusing to hire someone because they wear locs is not a form of racial discrimination.

It all started when a woman named Chastity Jones was offered a job at an Alabama insurance claims processing company as a customer service representative. She was told that the job was hers under one condition: She would need to get rid of her dreadlocks. They reportedly stated that locs “tend to get messy.” When Jones chose not to alter her hair for the position, the company decided to withdraw their offer. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was made aware of the situation, saw it as racial discrimination, and chose to act on her behalf, starting in 2013.

The EEOC noted that “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.”

However, Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan, who wrote the appellate opinion, made it clear that the court wasn’t ready to change the definition of racial discrimination in terms of employment to be not just about bias due to biological factors, but also bias in terms of the treatment of certain cultural characteristics attributed to races.

“We would be remiss 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,” he wrote. Title VII is of course a law that “prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.”

Jordan continued: “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.”

Jordan would go on to say that a change in the definition of racial discrimination would need to take place “through the democratic process,” not through the courts. As pointed out by The Wall Street Journal, the appellate court’s judgment is in line with the ruling from U.S. District Judge Charles R. Butler Jr. in 2014, a decision that also sided against the EEOC.

A spokesman for the EEOC said that they believe both courts ruled wrong and are “reviewing our options.” However, Helgi Walker, one of the lawyers for the insurance claims processing company in question said this second ruling is a reaffirmation of the fact that employers “may establish and enforce race-neutral grooming policies.”

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