Banning Dreadlocks In the Workplace Is Not Discrimination


By: Giovanni Zaburoni

Back in 2010, Chastity Jones received that call after applying for a job as a customer service representative at Catastrophe Management Solutions, an insurance claims processing company in Alabama. According to the Grio, Jones received the offer of employment, but it came with a request from a member of Human Resources. She needed to get rid of her dreadlocks. The HR personnel told Jones that dreadlocks “tend to get messy” and that the hairstyle did not comply with the company’s grooming policy.

Jones sued the company for discrimination with assistance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission but judges with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the company. In their 3-0 decision, the appeals court ruled banning employees from wearing dreadlocks is not racial discrimination and that ruling all comes down to what is considered immutable traits. Immutable traits are defined as any physical attribute that cannot be changed. They are traits that are innate to you as a human being. For instance, Black skin is an immutable trait that people who come from African descent have. Black people are born with b\Black skin and if someone hires you, they cannot say you have to get rid of your Black skin before they deem you to be appropriate for the workplace.

The EEOC argued, “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. If a white person chose to wear dreadlocks as a sign of racial support for her black colleagues, and the employer applied its dreadlocks ban to that person, she too could assert a race-based disparate treatment claim.”

Adalberto Jordan, a circuit judge appointed by President Barack Obama according to the Wall Street Journal had this to say about the ruling. “We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that, in the last several decades, there have been some calls for courts to interpret Title VII more expansively by eliminating the biological conception of ‘race’ and encompassing cultural characteristics associated with race. As far as we can tell, every court to have considered the issue has rejected the argument that Title VII protects hairstyles culturally associated with race.”

Black hair has been a topic of debate amongst non-black people for centuries. It’s seen as unkempt and matted and it’s called all sorts of awful things when it is on Black people. When white people appropriate Black culture and Black hairstyles, it somehow becomes appropriate and fashion forward. Jones tried to put an end to hair discrimination but unfortunately it didn’t work this time. Since there seems to be a war against Blackness brewing in America, this is surely a topic that will reach the court system again.

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