Dreadlocks Are Not a Protected Characteristic

     (CN) — An Alabama company’s refusal to hire a job applicant because she wouldn’t cut her dreadlocks is not considered racial discrimination, a federal appellate court ruled on Thursday.
     The 11th Circuit held a lower court properly dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of the job applicant, finding that the company’s actions did not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
     The case, which originated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, involved a black job applicant, Chastity Jones, whose job offer was rescinded “when she refused to cut off her dreadlocks.”
     The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the company on Jones’ behalf, claiming that the its grooming policy “constituted discrimination on the basis of Ms. Jones’ race.”
     According to the Sept. 15 ruling, however, dreadlocks are not considered an “immutable” racial characteristic.
     “Title VII protects persons in covered categories with respect to their immutable characteristics, but not their cultural practices,” U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote.
     “We recognize that the distinction between immutable and mutable characteristics of race can sometimes be a fine (and difficult) one, but it is a line that courts have drawn. So, for example, discrimination on the basis of black hair texture (an immutable characteristic) is prohibited by Title VII, while adverse action on the basis of black hairstyle (a mutable choice) is not.”
     As described in the opinion, a representative for the company, Catastrophe Management Solutions, told Jones following an in-person interview that she could not be hired by the company if she maintained her dreadlocks, since “they tend to get messy.”
     The company, a claims processor in Mobile, Ala., had a grooming policy in place at the time requiring all personnel “to be dressed and groomed in a manner that projects a professional and businesslike image.”
     According to the opinion, the policy also said that hairstyles should convey “a business/professional image” and that “excessive hairstyles or unusual colors” were not permitted.
     The EEOC premised its appeal on the argument that Jones had been subjected to disparate treatment, which the opinion notes required them to show that CMS had “intentionally discriminated against her on the basis of a protected characteristic.”
     Hairstyle, the court concluded, is not considered such a characteristic.
     “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,” Jordan wrote.
     Accordingly, the court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the complaint.

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