It's Legal For Employers To Discriminate Against People With Dreadlocks

Photo: Getty Images.
In news that has us double-checking whether we are, in fact, living in 2016, a U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit on Thursday brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against CMS, an insurance-processing claims company that rescinded a job offer to a woman because of her dreadlocks. The company's reasoning? According to court documents, it stated that the hairstyle "tends to get messy," and employees must be groomed in such a way that "projects a professional and businesslike image." (We've heard that one before.)

The EEOC, on behalf of plaintiff Chastity Jones, invoked Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that it's unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire or to discharge any individual on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. According to the commission, "the 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." Makes sense, seems clear-cut, right?

The court disagreed, saying that race discrimination was based on skin color, not hairstyle. “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,” stated judge Adalberto Jordan, who delivered the appellate opinion.

The ruling is disappointing, to say the least, but not particularly surprising. Confusion over what is art and what constitutes cultural appropriation abounds in the fashion industry; the military has standards in place for how those actively serving our country must maintain their hair, and too many people still associate dreadlocks with unprofessionalism. We tend to think it's unprofessional when a hiring manager is too plain ignorant to recognize that a candidate's hairstyle has nothing to do with their ability to do their job. But then, maybe that's just us.
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