While Marc Jacobs is arguing down black women over his right to parade around white women with dreadlocks on his runway, a federal appeals court has ruled it’s perfectly okay for companies to ban their employees from wearing locs.
A 3-0 decision Thursday by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled banning employees from wearing their hair in dreadlocks isn’t a form of racial discrimination, dismissing a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against a company that refused to hire a black woman because she wouldn’t cut her locs, the Wall Street Journal reported.
In 2013, the EEOC accused Catastrophe Management Solutions of discriminating against applicant Chastity Jones when they hired her to work for the insurance claims processing company in 2010 under the stipulation that she cut her dreadlocks in accordance with its grooming policy.
According to WSJ: “The company requires employees to be dressed and groomed ‘in a manner that projects a professional and businesslike image.’ And dreadlocks, the HR manager told Ms. Jones, ‘tend to get messy.’ When Ms. Jones refused to change her hair, the company withdrew the offer.”
Based on that chain of events, the EEOC brought forth suit, alleging “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.” The defense, however, argued the insurance company’s grooming policy was race-neutral and the EEOC was simply dredging up “novel theories” about race and culture in their complaint rather than providing any valid legal arguments.
Although the Federal law’s ban of employment discrimination on the basis of race has been interpreted to mean discrimination based on skin color and other “immutable traits,” dreadlocks failed to meet the somewhat ambiguous criteria for the latter, WSJ pointed out.
In his appellate opinion, Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan, wrote:
“We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that, in the last several decades, there have been some calls for courts to interpret Title VII more expansively by eliminating the biological conception of ‘race’ and encompassing cultural characteristics associated with race.
“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.”
According to Judge Jordan, debate over the expansion of Title VII should be handled “through the democratic process,” not by courts. Meanwhile an EEOC spokeswoman told Law Blog, “We believe the court was incorrect when it held that the employer’s actions could not be proven to be race discrimination. We are reviewing our options.”