There are many ways for employers to cross the line when it comes to rules over employee dress or personal grooming habits, but a recent federal court decision ruled that wearing dreadlocks is not a protected form of dress under Title VII, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Last week the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed in a 3-0 decision a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Catastrophe Management Solutions, an insurance claims processing company that declined to hire a black woman because she wouldn’t cut her dreadlocks.
When the job applicant refused the HR manager's request to dump the dreadlocks, the employer withdrew its job offer. The EEOC alleged that the “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.” Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, the firm representing the employer, said its grooming policy was race-neutral and therefore not discriminatory.
Employers are constantly facing new legal twists when it comes to hiring and discrimination, and this case is no different. Here, the court, while sympathetic to the young woman and the EEOC, said that discrimination based on skin color and other “immutable traits” is against the law, but the immutability concept was the deciding factor. The court didn't see dreadlocks as an immutable trait of a person of color.
For now, the ruling "reaffirms" that employers "may establish and enforce race-neutral grooming policies for their workplace without running afoul of Title VII." Times change and this case could end up in front of the Supreme Court, but it's more likely to stand as is. As always, employers need to consult with their employment law experts when making a hiring or firing decision involving potential Title VII violations, particularly over dress or grooming.