Catastrophe Management Solutions recently won a case before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The lawsuit filed by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged that it was illegal to not hire someone because of his or her dreadlock hairstyle.
The EEOC filed the suit on behalf of the female employee whose job offer from the Alabama-based company was withdrawn during a meeting about scheduling conflicts with the potential hire. The woman told that the hairstyle “tends to get messy.”
Hairstyle or cultural identity?
EEOC claimed that singling out the hairstyle was a violation of Title VII civil rights act because the hair was often used to stereotype African-American people who were not team players, and thus not suitable for a workplace. Because of the racial identity involved in the grooming choice, EEOC believed the hair was physiologically and culturally connected to race.
The court disagreed
The appeals court disagreed with the EEOC, ruling that it was racially neutral because hair is not an immutable or unchangeable trait, such skin color, gender or ethnicity. In a similar ruling, the courts denied a claim where a man was unfairly fired because he spoke Spanish while at work, thus violating a company English-only policy. Schools and even professional sports teams have also instituted grooming policies that have been upheld in court as well.
Drawing up grooming guidelines
Companies who wish to create or enforce grooming guidelines for its employees can do so. However, it is advisable to consult with an attorney that has employment law experience. They can help employers determine what is immutable and then create a policy that will have a strong legal foundation in court if there is a dispute.