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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Dreadlocked Driver Must Repair Greyhound Suit

(CN) - A bus driver must amend claims that Greyhound fired him for wearing dreadlocks to honor his heritage, though it lets women and white men wear hair of any length, a federal judge ruled.

Wayne McNeil sued Greyhound Lines Inc., his employer of nearly 15 years, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

McNeil, who is black, said that beginning in 2007, he was repeatedly reprimanded for wearing his hair in dreadlocks, which supposedly violated Greyhound's policy that "hair must be kept neat [and] be styled and colored in a matter [sic] that does not draw undo [sic] attention to the employee. Hair length for men should not be extended below the collar."

But female and white male employees may wear hair of any length, McNeil claimed.

McNeil's "exemplary" driving could not protect him from a three-day unpaid suspension because of his hairstyle in March 2011, and for two more days several months later, the complaint states.

Though McNeil told Greyhound that his dreadlocks are meant to honor his race, culture and strongly held philosophical beliefs, his supervisors allegedly explained that they had to follow the orders of the regional vice president, Michael Fleischhauer, who is white.

Fleischhauer allegedly emphasized his own personal dislike of the hairstyle and said that it was not suitable for the work environment in any circumstance. The vice president also called McNeil a "troublemaker" to his manager, according to the ccomplaint.

After McNeil's union denied several of his grievances, he filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission in November 2011.

Greyhound fired McNeil about a year later, accusing him of violating its personal courtesy and conduct policy by abandoning another driver and a passenger in Sugarloaf, Pa., and citing his "previous record," according to the complaint.

McNeil asserts claims for gender and race discrimination and retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, but U.S. District Judge Anita Brody dismissed some of the claims last week.

"McNeil fails to identify a facially gender-neutral employment practice that he seeks to challenge," Brody wrote. "To the contrary, McNeil acknowledges in his complaint that Greyhound's grooming policy is 'not gender neutral,' and the policy establishes different requirements for men and women."

The driver cannot plausibly state a disparate impact gender discrimination claim, the ruling states.

"In his complaint, McNeil fails to allege either a 'racially unequal result' in Greyhound's employment patterns or a 'causal connection' between Greyhound's grooming policy and that result," Brody wrote. "The complaint contains no allegations that Greyhound hires, promotes, or fires African American employees in substantially disproportionate numbers compared to employees from other racial groups or that Greyhound's grooming policy caused such a 'racially unequal result.' McNeil alleges only that the policy 'prevents employees of defendant Greyhound from wearing ethnically African-American hairstyles.' Accordingly, I will dismiss McNeil's disparate impact race discrimination claims without prejudice to amend his complaint."

The judge refused to dismiss McNeil's disparate treatment and retaliation claims, however, without explaining why.

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