Hairy situation

Federal court says it’s OK to discriminate against a person with dreadlocks

Creative Commons photo by Nicolah Martin: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Omar_Perry_by_nicolah_martin.jpg

Not hiring a person because they are black is illegal. How about not hiring a person because they have dreadlocks? A federal court doesn’t have a problem with that.

A panel of judges from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that discriminating against a person on the basis of their hair was not illegal. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission on behalf of a black woman from Alabama.

The woman, Chastity Jones, alleged in the lawsuit that a human resources manager for a company called Catastrophe Management Solutions rescinded her job offer because she had dreadlocks, telling her, “they tend to get messy, although I’m not saying yours are, but you know what I’m talking about.”

The EEOC believed that this violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and that since dreadlocks are a “racial characteristic,” this meant CMS was effectively discriminating against Jones because she was black. CMS argued back that its grooming policy prohibiting dreadlocks was “race-neutral.”

The court disagreed based on a precedent of how it has defined race in these sorts of civil rights cases. The precedent holds that, in order to for a characteristic to have a racial component, it must be “immutable”—something that cannot be changed. The court found that dreadlocks were something mutable, a changeable characteristic, and thus not something Jones could be discriminated against for having.

“Ms. Jones told CMS that she would not cut her dreadlocks in order to secure a job, and we respect that intensely personal decision and all it entails,” the judges wrote. “But, for the reasons we have set out, the EEOC’s original and proposed amended complaint did not state a plausible claim that CMS intentionally discriminated against Ms. Jones because of her race.”

In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, a spokeswoman for the EEOC said they believed the court’s ruling was incorrect, and that they were reviewing their options for an appeal.

So here’s a tip from the 11th. Circuit Court to all the racist managers out there: You can’t get in legal trouble for banning dreadlocks. Thanks, civil rights laws that haven’t been updated since the 1960s.

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