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Dreadlock Bans: Now Legal, Still Racist

Topics: Current Events
It’s now legal to refuse to hire someone based on the fact that they wear dreadlocks, according to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
dreadlock bans
Image Credit: wocintechchat.com/Flickr

The court recently dismissed a suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Chastity Jones, a black applicant whose job offer was rescinded after she refused to cut off her dreadlocks in accordance with Mobile, Ala.-based Catastrophe Management Solutions’ “race-neutral” grooming policy.

Background on the Ruling

The EEOC argued that rescinding Jones’ offer based on her hairstyle was a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. According to court documents, the EEOC laid out its argument as follows:

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First, the EEOC stated that race “is a social construct and has no biological definition.” Second, the EEOC asserted that “the concept of race is not limited to or defined by immutable physical characteristics.” Third, according to the EEOC Compliance Manual, the “concept of race encompasses cultural characteristics related to race or ethnicity,” including “grooming Practices.”  Fourth, although some non-black persons “have a hair texture that would allow the hair to lock, dreadlocks are nonetheless a racial characteristic, just as skin color is a racial characteristic.”

The court disagreed, finding that hairstyles, even if “culturally associated with race,” are not “immutable physical characteristics.”

Why Your Employer Shouldn’t Ban “Culturally Associated” Hairstyles

When it comes to rulings like this, “legal” and “right” are two very different things. Make no mistake: if your employer has a grooming policy that prohibits dreadlocks (or cornrows, twists, or other hairstyles associated with black culture), they’re perpetuating bias against African-Americans in the workplace.

Take, for example, the statement from Catastrophe Management Solution’s Human Resources Manager Jeannie Wilson about why she couldn’t hire Jones with dreadlocks: “they tend to get messy, although I’m not saying yours are, but you know what I’m talking about.”

Yes, everyone knows what you’re talking about. That’s the problem.

Bias against natural hairstyles for black women runs deep, and not just in Corporate America. A 2013 article in Ebony describes women with natural hair experiencing discrimination in all walks of professional life, from academia to park services. Even students are not immune: some schools still forbid students from wearing dreadlocks, cornrows, or other hairstyles associated black culture.

The problem with allowing bias to dictate policy is clear: it places an undue burden on black women, forcing them to endure costly treatments in order to adhere to a grooming code, while perpetuating stereotypes that characterize African-Americans as “messier” and therefore less professional than other races.

It also bolsters the perception that whiteness is “normal” and preferable. That’s bad for individual employees of all races, bad for corporate culture, and bad for society. Regardless of what courts determine, if you’re a decision-maker at your company, you should support a grooming policy that’s inclusive, not divisive and discriminatory.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever been asked to change your hairstyle to adhere to grooming codes? We want to hear from you. Join the conversation on Twitter or leave a comment.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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K-Cee
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K-Cee

I’ve seen several caucasians with dreadlocks…racist? Due to the type of job I have I can’t have my hair long or wear my pierced earring. I’m male, so is that gender-biased that I can’t wear an earring or have long hair while females can? There are so many jobs that have dress codes, including those that require restrictions on hair-style, clothes, facial hair…etc. Just another race-baiter trying to stir something up, it appears!

Marshall
Guest
Marshall

This is where we may really be different. And there is a gross lack of understanding of the difference. If you were required to wear your hair with short tight curls I think you would change your position. You are making the assumption that cultural styles have no basis in need. My hair just does not grow like yours. I think we can agree that the length of woman’s hair is her prerogative unless there is health/safety issue.

Dawn
Guest
Dawn

I agree about health reasons being ligitamate. Our healthcare facility has many dress and grooming codes for obvious reasons. Braids yes, dreadlocks, no, yet the majority of our employees are black. On another note, I’m in the Liberty camp. I think it’s ok if employers want to have rules, especially small employers. They risked their own capital/credit that created that job, they should get to decide what their brand should be. If the employee doesn’t agree with the employers rule, then the employee gets to decide if they want to work there or not. How about a little free exchange… Read more »

Deep C Diver
Guest
Deep C Diver

I’ve worked in places where facial hair was not allowed. One was an petro-chem plant wear wearing a gas mask was a real possibility and a good seal to the face was necessary. In other words it was a business necessity. The other was employer simply did not want beards. I know employers demand that long hair be pulled back and tied up. Other will not hire someone with a visible tattoo. I support the employer’s right define and enforce dress codes, to the extent that they apply these policies uniformly and consistently.

Hugh M.
Guest
Hugh M.

Nice clickbait title. Dreadlocks are not specific to any race but thanks for stirring the pot.

Tabatha
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Tabatha

I don’t really see it as racist (I am black) because all races are starting to wear them, but it is going to force amazing workers to either cut them or quit their position. I don’t think a hairstyle should have such power over work and making money; just as long as they look maintained. I don’t know who the uppity people are that have an issue with the hairstyle, but they need to get a grip. Does that mean that the company won’t do business with a rep if they sport dreads as well? I find it silly. They… Read more »

Marshall
Guest
Marshall

What makes it racist is the why.

Coastal
Guest
Coastal

We are talking about dreadlocks here aren’t we , ??
not curly or tight curly hair , or , ie ringlet curls , which occur naturally ….

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

I’m not sure it goes to the extreme of straightened hair. Dreadlocks can look very unkempt. That is not a desirable look for many business environments. I don’t see this as being racist but just part of a policy of appropriate appearance for a position. They may have said the same thing to a white person with dreads.

Aundie
Guest
Aundie

As a Black Woman and an HR professional I am appalled by the courts decision and the HR persons response which was clearly biased. No question about it. The result of this ruling will have a disparate impact on Black Men and Women, period.

Coastal
Guest
Coastal

we are talking about dreadlocks here aren’t we ???

Earnestine Kimber
Guest
Earnestine Kimber

I recently have decided to wear locs. It wasn’t to make a statement but because I was tired of my hair coming out from perms and the other chemicals that was effecting my health. I also tried weaves for a long time trying to look like someone I wasn’t. I finally embraced my hair with locs and it is flourishing and growing and it’s healthy and clean. I wash my hair twice a week and it is clean and well maintained. It hurts me that society is still unacceptable of our natural hair. They don’t tell other cultural that they… Read more »

Juno
Guest
Juno

I am a Black female and I do not see the ruling as racist because it is prohibiting a style, not her natural hair. Please define the difference between NATURAL and LOCS. No one’s hair grows into locs, not even African/Black hair. One must manipulate the hair so that it will “lock” onto itself. Or, just stop combing it so that it becomes matted. Because of its coarse texture, African /Black hair is the easiest type of hair to do this to, however, I’m sure everyone has seen other ethnicities wearing the locs before and it looks like a matted… Read more »

Concerned Reader
Guest
Concerned Reader

Dreadlocks are literally unkempt hair, not indicative of or exclusive to any subset of the human population. They are often perceived as unprofessional, because they are UNKEMPT. Furthermore, they may be hazardous in certain environments, just as overly loose clothing, hanging jewelry, etc., may be prohibited for safety reasons. OSHA, NASP, BCSP, etc., are all in agreement on this, and recommend that employers use judgment to allow or prohibit certain attire or hairstyles in accordance with the nature of their work. A legal precedent which forbids employers from deciding what may or may not be worn in their work places… Read more »

Marshall
Guest
Marshall

You are proving the article’s point – some people wash their hair daily – most black women do not, why because it would be counter to the growth and health of hair. Therefor by the standard of one who washes their hair daily and often allow it to dry naturally, does not apply because that is not how it works for many black women, and there-in lies your bias – of course if it presented a health and safety issue then it would be a different issue but define it as unhealthy/unkempt is inherently biased.

Jason
Guest
Jason

The race-baiting knows no bounds. Not wearing dreadlocks in certain work environments is no different than a previous manager of mine asking me to shave my beard because he felt that people with beards were less trustworthy. Being that I worked in face-to-face sells, his point was well received. It is also no different than having someone covered in tattoos and facial piercings working in direct patient contact. You cannot complain about how people judge if you are the cause of the judgement. We aren’t talking about a goiter that you cant help here people. Crazy hairstyles (regardless of race),… Read more »

Trish Ross
Guest
Trish Ross

I am a white woman who is outraged that companies can legally refuse employment or terminate a worker because of a hairstyle., regardless of their race. Jewish men wear locs…are they not protected based on their religious requirement for their hairstyle? Non-black folks love locks and rolls as well. I digress…Company policies should not go beyond requiring proper hygiene and grooming protocols. If there is an issue then HR should call that person in for a sit down explanation of their policies and work it through disciplinary policy if necessary. But really….dreadlocs, cornrolls??? they’re beautiful and beat half the hairstyles… Read more »

Mark
Guest
Mark

I don’t like it and I hope it gets appealed. Dreadlocks are not a hairstyle that one can cut off, and readily go back to once a person is no longer working there. I’ve had my dreadlocks for about 2 years and it is still not long enough to put in a ponytail yet.

Michelle Gellman
Guest
Michelle Gellman

This is just racist and I think all the arguments made by EEOC should have been enough to prove it.

Pieter
Guest
Pieter

There should not be any dicrimination regarding hair stile, rather restrict all employees on the length of hair and still respect the entity of every human. If the employer feels or is of the opinion that the hairstile in question is messy, rather then impliment a rule of covering all visable hair of all employees- taking in consideration – management also falls in the same bracket. Remember to include all employees under the same umbrella

Denise
Guest
Denise

This case is an example of when extensive consultation with people of color was and is necessary. For the record, dreadlocks is a derogatory term. It is as racist as “n****r” or “k****r”. The correct term is simply “locs”. With the exception of Asians (epicanthic folds of the eyes), Africans and their descendants are the only race of people who have a characteristic that no other race has…. coarse hair. People of color should not have to expose themselves or their children to ammonium thioglycolate (the dangerous chemical in a perm) to fit the paradigm of what whites believe they… Read more »

Coastal
Guest
Coastal

we are talking about dreadlocks here ….aren’t we which I believe are not a natural hair set .. don’t they have to be nurtured to grow that way ,,,????
Or do they just occur naturally

Coastal
Guest
Coastal

how is dread locks an offensive term ??

Lanse
Guest
Lanse

It depends on the job! Are whites allowed long matted hair. Btw I have a buzz cut for others safety and comfort.

Luis
Guest
Luis

I agree that it depends on the job. However, your following statement leads the discussion off-point. Based on the article, I presume this to be an office job. If this was a manufacturing type job, then close kept hair would be in line with safety practices. In this case, all that is needed is a clean and well kept appearance. While that too is a little subjective, a little bit of education at the HR level would help with this issue. By the way, how is your buzz cut for my comfort? Or is that an assumption being made here?

Travis L. Glenn
Guest
Travis L. Glenn

As an MBA graduate and Public Policy graduate of the higher echelon of academia I disagree with the reason given for the change of “heart” should I say. Nevertheless, When you state that it depends upon the job, you’re referring to bona-fide occupational qualification. Nevertheless, I don’t read that anywhere within the text above.

Coastal
Guest
Coastal

me personally , the only one who looked totally cool and natural , with dreds was Robert every one else is just trying to catch the fire

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