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A US federal appeals court has ruled that banning an employee from wearing their hair in locs is not racial discrimination. The court dismissed a lawsuit against a company that withdrew a woman’s job offer after she refused to cut her dreadlocks.
The case started back in 2010, when Chastity Jones applied for a customer service representative job at Catastrophe Management Solutions. She was hired, but on the condition that she would cut off her hair.
According to court documents quoted by the Wall Street Journal, the company’s grooming policy requires employees to present themselves “in a manner that projects a professional and businesslike image”. Although that’s not an unusual policy, the company’s HR manager reportedly went on to tell Jones that locs “tend to get messy” and as such she’d have to cut them off in order to comply.
Jones refused, and the company withdrew the job offer.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought the case against the company on Jones’ behalf, alleging that banning dreadlocks was racial discrimination. They claimed that locs are manner of wearing the hair that is physiologically and culturally associated with people of African descent.
Unfortunately for the EEOC, the court disagreed. Where the EEOC argued that race can be “a social construct” with “no biological definition”, the court took race to refer to skin colour and other “immutable traits”, upholding the interpretation generally used by US courts.
Since locs are not immutable, as they are not necessarily a permanent, unchangeable part of someone’s physique, the court concluded that refusing someone a job over them is not racial discrimination.
It might not legally be discrimination, but the company’s decision does seem to be based on a combination of bias and generalisation, perhaps with a hint of ignorance.
In a similar case of questionable hiring practices, earlier this year a Muslim woman in Norway was offered a job under the condition that she would remove her headscarf. The prospective employer reportedly sent the candidate a text that read:
“I have spoken with [name redacted] and he said that if you are comfortable with working without the hijab then you can have the job with him”.
The candidate respectfully declined, stating that the hijab is a big part of her identity which she is not willing to give up.
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