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Court says that banning dreadlocks is not racial discrimination

by | Sep 22, 2016 | Firm News, workplace discrimination |

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit against a company that rescinded an offer of employment to a woman because she would not cut her dreadlocks. In the unanimous decision, the federal court ruled that prohibiting an employee from wearing dreadlocks does not qualify as racial discrimination. This decision could have implications for future discrimination claims in Pennsylvania.

The case dates back to 2010, when the woman was initially hired at a company but was advised that in order to be in compliance with the company’s grooming policy, she would have to cut off her dreadlocks. When she refused to comply, the offer of employment was withdrawn. A lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of the woman.

The EEOC asserted that because dreadlocks are associated with people of African descent, the banning of the hairstyle qualifies as racial discrimination. The agency also applied the definition of race as a cultural aspect rather than one based on biology. It offered that if the policy was enforced against a white individual who wore the hairstyle as a show of solidarity for other black workers, the white employee could also allege discrimination on the basis of race.

Despite the calls over the years to broaden the definition of race to include cultural aspects, the appeals court chose to base its decision on the biological definition of race, which involves factors such as the color of an individual’s skin and other fixed, physical characteristics. It overruled the EEOC’s contention that Title VII included protection for hairstyles that are culturally linked to race.

Workplace discrimination can take many forms and occur during any stage of the employment process, from interviewing and hiring to retirement or termination. If an individual has been a victim of workplace discrimination, a lawyer who practices employment law may help file a lawsuit.