A black woman who had a job offer rescinded because she refused to change her hairstyle is hoping to take her case to the Supreme Court. Chastity Jones of Alabama was offered a job as a customer service representative in 2010. An HR manager later told Jones that dreadlocks “tend to get messy” and that she would need to change her hairstyle in order to be considered for the job. Jones refused. Since then she and Catastrophe Management Solutions, the company to which she was applying, have been fighting the decision in court.
Jones contends that the decision was based on racial bias while Catastrophe Management Solutions maintains that it is simply a grooming policy. Traditionally, the courts have sided with businesses in cases in which employees are either fired or prospective employees are denied employment based on grooming choices. Although dreadlocks are intrinsically linked to African Americans and their culture, courts have traditionally employed an “immutable characteristic” standard for discrimination.
The Immutable Characteristic Standard
It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against an employee or an applicant, that is true. What remains unclear, is whether or not an employee can discriminate against their culture. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act expressly prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee based on:
- Nation of Origin
There is nothing, however, that would prevent an employer from barring the wearing of a cross, for instance, to show that someone is a member of a certain religion. However, therein lies the plaintiff’s problem with banning hairstyles that are associated with specific ethnic groups.
The Question of Race
Companies employ grooming standards and demand that all their employees abide by them. Superficially, this may seem like just another case of a company making a demand of its employees that they are all obliged to follow. Underneath the surface, however, the issue of race dominates the question. Does corporate America force African Americans do adopt white standards of beauty and professionalism in the workplace?
One question, therefore, that needs to be answered is: What exactly is race?
According to federal law, race is constituted by immutable inherited characteristics such as hair texture and skin color that are shared by a group of people. Now, Chastity Jones and EEOC want the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue. How will they attack a precedent that has been set by decades worth of decisions?
The answer could come down to challenging the assumption that race is purely a biological construct. The EEOC is arguing that the decisions reached by courts in the past rest on outdated ideas about what constitutes race. They also rest on outdated ideas of how discrimination is carried out in the workplace.
The decision, if it reaches the Supreme Court, could have a far-reaching impact on race discrimination lawsuits all over the country. The EEOC will argue that the assumption that dreadlocks “tend to get messy” is itself a form of racial bias and constitutes a kind of discrimination.
Have You Been Discriminated Against Based on Your Race?
If so, let HKM Employment Law of Kansas City handle your case. We have taken employers to task for their discriminatory practices and secured favorable settlements and verdicts for our clients. Call us at 816.607.4691, and we will begin discussing your case immediately.