The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the EEOC, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of Chastity Jones. Jones filed a discrimination lawsuit after having an offer of employment rescinded by Catastrophe Management Services located in Mobile, Alabama. They said her dreadlocks violated company policy on personal grooming.
While it is true that dreadlocks are associated with African-American culture, the court ruled that because a hairstyle is not an “immutable characteristic” of an individual, it can not be argued as a violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Ms. Jones was told during a hiring meeting that dreadlocks “tend to get messy” and that she would not be hired unless she changed her hairstyle. The EEOC argued that dreadlocks constituted a “racial characteristic” and the decision to exclude employees based on this hairstyle was a form of racial discrimination.
Cultural Characteristics and Racial Discrimination
The decision and others like it leave many wondering what (if any) teeth Title VII cases have in racial discrimination lawsuits. The case that may have set the precedent was one in which a Hispanic woman was prohibited from speaking Spanish at work. She sued the company saying that their policy was racially motivated and discriminatory. The court ruled against the plaintiff using the “immutable characteristics” argument.
Is There a Religious Exemption?
While it is not okay to discriminate against black people in general, if you are an employer, you can, according to this ruling, discriminate against dreadlocks. On the other hand, individuals who wear dreadlocks as part of their religion might be a gray area.
For instance, Rastafarians wear dreadlocks as part of their religious practice. In a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by the EEOC on behalf of Courtney Joseph against a staffing agency that services Walt Disney World, the court ordered the company to pay $30,000 for religious discrimination. Joseph worked as a cook.
The company argued that there is no religious law that compels Rastafarians to wear dreadlocks, nor are those who choose to wear dreadlocks compelled to wear them long. Individuals who wear dreadlocks are considered by this employer as “dirty” or “messy.”
While a company has a right to discriminate against a religious practice that would hurt their business, the staffing agency had the capacity to reassign Joseph to another duty where dreadlocks would not be considered, rightly or not, a sanitary issue. A company also has a duty to accommodate religious practices to the extent that they are capable of being accommodated. In this instance, the staffing agency had every means available to accommodate Joseph’s religious expression and chose to fire him instead.
Have You Been Fired or Denied a Position Because of Your Race or Religion?
Not only is discrimination unfair, but it is also illegal. Missouri law protects employees who are passed for promotions based on their skin color, gender, nation of origin, religion, age, or disability. If you have been unfairly discriminated against, call HKM Employment Attorneys of Kansas City at 816.607.4691, and we will begin discussing your case right away.