The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that would make refusing to hire someone because of their dreadlocks illegal.
According to NBC, the lawsuit was filed against Catastrophe Management Solutions (CMS) by the EEOC on behalf of Chasity Jones, whose job offer was rescinded by the Mobile, Alabama, company due to her hairstyle.
According to the case file, Jeannie Wilson, who serves as a human resources manager for CMS, made remarks about Jones’ hairstyle during a private hiring meeting about scheduling conflicts. She reportedly told Jones, “they tend to get messy, although I’m not saying yours are, but you know what I’m talking about.”
Wilson told Jones the company wouldn’t hire her with dreadlocks, terminating the job offer.
The EEOC filed a lawsuit, claiming the move was a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically Title VII. It argued that dreadlocks are a “racial characteristic” that has been historically used to stereotype African-Americans. Therefore, claiming the style does not fit the company policy is inherently discriminatory as it plays off stereotypes that African-Americans with the style are “not team players” and are unfit for the workplace.
But the court of appeals disagreed. It ruled that CMS’s “race–neutral grooming policy” wasn’t discriminatory and that traits in a person’s appearance that are tied to their culture but are otherwise changeable were not protected.
In other words, a person can be denied a job offer based on their appearance if the issue is something that can be changed.
Courts have routinely interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as one that exclusively protects against “immutable characteristics,” not cultural practices.
In the case of Garcia v. Gloor, the courts ruled in favor of the defendants, saying they had a right to fire the plaintiff for speaking Spanish despite their employer’s English-only policy did not violate Title VII.