The EEOC initiated a lawsuit against Albertsons Pharmacy for a policy that prohibits employees from speaking Spanish while on the job. The Albertsons in question is located in San Diego, but recently, other cases involving prohibitions on certain hairstyles have garnered national attention in the media.
Recently, a judge ruled that while employers cannot discriminate against a person because of his or her race, they can discriminate against a person because of his or her hairstyle. The case in question involved an applicant, Chastity Jones, who had applied for a job as a salesperson at Catastrophe Management Solutions in Alabama. Jones was told that her dreadlocks could get “messy” and so they violated the company’s grooming policy. Jones sued for discrimination, but her case was dismissed before going to trial. On appeal, the judge determined that because dreadlocks are not an “immutable characteristic” such as skin color, she was not entitled to sue under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
That has not stopped her from trying, however. Her lawyers maintain that dreadlocks are an intrinsic part of her culture and have been associated with African-Americans for generations. Discriminating against dreadlocks, therefore, is tantamount to discriminating against African-Americans. However, the “immutable characteristic” doctrine has had a long history of precedence in American courts.
Race, Culture, and Nationality
The EEOC keeps litigating lawsuits of this nature despite the doctrine of immutable characteristics. Its latest case involves two Hispanic employees who were verbally reprimanded for speaking Spanish on the job, in this case, while they were on break. It is clear that the EEOC wants to push the issue of discrimination being restricted to immutable features, the question is why?
The reason for that may have something to do with our evolving understanding of race. Race cannot be completely reduced only to physical features. The concept of race is even less apparent in a country like the U.S. that has seen so much intermarriage between people of different races. Today, a person who only has 25% African genes can be considered “black” and not white. The question is, why? What sense does any of that make?
Hispanics tend to have a skin tone that is slightly darker than whites and names that identify themselves as Hispanic in origin, but the same argument can be made of Italians. Herein lies the conundrum. Are we targeting certain ethnicities and nationalities over others and do these differences have more to do with culture than they do physical characteristics?
This is precisely what the EEOC wants the courts to clarify. These appear to be among a number of test cases that are popping up in the U.S. judicial system that are clearly cases of discrimination but do not pass the litmus of immutability.
It is no longer a widely accepted opinion that race can be understood purely in terms of genetics. So, why are we still using a metric that is based on outdated beliefs?
Have You Been the Victim of Discrimination?
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