Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Job Discrimination Based on African-American Hairstyles: Old Battles and New Solutions

As the law stands, companies are permitted to discriminate against African Americans who wear culturally appropriate hairstyles.  In the 2017 federal case of  EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutionsthe District Court of Southern Alabama sided with the employer who rescinded a job offer to an African American woman, Chastity Jones, who refused to cut off her dreadlocks as a condition of accepting the position.  Despite the fact that dreadlocks are nearly exclusively worn by African Americans, the 11th Circuit refused to overturn the decision.  "CMS interpreted its hairstyle policy—which said that an employee’s “hairstyle should reflect a business/professional image” and that “[n]o excessive hairstyles or unusual colors are acceptable.”   The EEOC argued that race doesn’t have a biological definition and is a social construct, and that race is not defined or limited by immutable characteristics. Instead, the EEOC alleged that race can also encompass “cultural characteristics related to race or ethnicity,” including “grooming practices”; and that even though some non-Black people’s hair texture can lock, “dreadlocks are nonetheless a racial characteristic, just as skin color is a racial characteristic.”  The 11th Circuit disagreed stating "Under our precedent, banning dreadlocks in the workplace under a race-neutral grooming policy—without more—does not constitute intentional race-based discrimination.”  

In response, states and municipalities began banning hairstyle discrimination. Recently Maryland's Montgomery County became the first US county to ban hairstyle discrimination on the local level. 

"In an effort to combat racist policies that prohibit Black people from wearing hairstyles like Afros, cornrows, and braids in schools, companies, and other institutions, city council members passed a bill to expand the definition of race used in their human rights legislation. It will expand the definition of race to include natural hairstyles, like Afros, twists, Bantu knots and protective hairstyles like braids, that people of African descent wear," Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando said.  Expanding the definition of race to include hair is a direct response to the wave of discrimination towards Black people across the US for wearing traditional natural hairstyles in schools and workplaces."

California, New York, and New Jersey as well as the city of Cincinnati,  have enacted the "Crown Act" (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) and many states are considering passage.

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