An insurance claims company did not discriminate against a black job applicant by refusing to hire her because she would not cut her dreadlocks, the Eleventh Circuit Court has ruled.
The court upheld a lower court’s ruling on the case, despite the fact that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission argued that the applicant’s hairstyle was directly associated with her race.
The case springs from Alabama-based insurance company Catastrophe Management Solutions’ withdrawal of an opportunity of employment to applicant Chastity Jones. Jones, who had been offered employment as a customer service representative, refused to cut her dreadlocks before starting work.
Court documents said that CMS’s human resources manager told Jones that dreadlocks “tend to get messy.” The company’s grooming policy prohibited “excessive hairstyles” and said that hairstyles should “reflect a business/professional image.”
The EEOC filed a discrimination suit on Jones’ behalf, but lost when a federal district court ruled that a hairstyle was not an immutable characteristic.
The circuit court agreed, ruling that the EEOC failed to show that Jones’s hairstyle was an “immutable trait” of black individuals – which would have meant that CMS’s grooming policy was in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
“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,” Circuit Judge Adalbarto Jordan wrote in the court’s decision. “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.”