Federal Appeals Court Rules It Legal to Fire Employees with Dreads

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dreadlocksIn a 3-0 decision, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will now allow employers to hire or fire employees based on their hairstyles.

The federal appeals court ruled banning dreadlocks in the workplace isn’t racial discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought the case to court against a company that refused to hire a woman because she wouldn’t cut off her dreadlocks.

Sophia Davis, a business administration major at York College, said she doesn’t see why a person’s hairstyle would impact the quality of her work.

“A company should fire you because of your lack of skill and inexperience – not what you look like,” said Davis. “If a company said they weren’t going to hire a person with straight hair or blonde hair, this wouldn’t be a conversation. It’s about Black hairstyles being considered unacceptable. Black women are expected to assimilate to white standards.”

The case centered on a Black woman named Chastity Jones, who was hired by Catastrophe Management Solutions in Mobile, Alabama, in 2010. The company requires its employees to adhere to strict grooming policies if they want to work there. Jones said in her statement that a human resources employee told her to get rid of her dreadlocks because they “tend to get messy.”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law, prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. According to this law, the ruling was considered justified. The company was not breaking the law because dreadlocks, according to the ruling, are not considered a biological distinction of race. Although dreadlocks are historically and culturally a Black hairstyle, they can be worn by all races.

U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote for the most recent ruling that, “Characteristics of race can sometimes be a fine one, but it is a line that courts have drawn.” The judge also described this line as characteristics that can and cannot be changed about a person’s race. His ruling indicates that discrimination on the basis of Black hair texture, something that cannot be changed, is prohibited. While something that can be changed, a Black hairstyle, is not racial discrimination.

Entwayne Christopher, a marketing major at York College, said that the court should not have even considered hearing the case.
   
“I think the law is dumb,” said Christopher. “It just gives businesses more reasons to discriminate against people, especially Black people.”

The EEOC argued that banning dreadlocks in the workplace is, in fact, racial discrimination because the hairstyle is, “physiologically and culturally associated with people of African decent.” The EEOC’s defense was that race is not only something a person is born with, but is also a cultural practice.

The court decision was a setback for Black women who’ve gained so much ground in fighting to wear their natural hair in traditionally Black hairstyles. The U.S. military amended their rules on grooming. Hairstyles like dreadlocks, two-strand twists, and other natural hairstyles are now considered acceptable. They also removed terms like “matted and unkept” from the guidelines.

George White, associate professor and chair of history and philosophy at York College, said, he believes that race is a “social construct.”

“It seems to me that the significance of this ruling is not whether race is a viable category for understanding human beings and their behaviors and expressions,” said White, author of Holding the Line: Race Racism, and American Foreign Policy Toward Africa.  “No, to me, this ruling seems to be about the ability of employers to hire/fire employees for reasons completely unrelated to job performance, thereby creating an environment in which discrimination can occur quite easily.  I am hard-pressed to think of a job in which the wearing of dreadlocks would hinder a person’s ability to do the job.”

Some fear that the ruling will hinder a significant pool of applicants from getting work solely based on their form of expression.
   
“This ruling will translate into more “legal” discrimination against men and women of color, LGBTQ people, or any non-conformist trying to get or keep jobs,” said White.