Los Angeles racial discrimination attorneys know that “black hair discrimination” is real. But is it illegal? The question that gets to the core of federal anti-discrimination law is how do we define discrimination in employment on the basis of race? But Los Angeles racial discrimination lawyers know that when the U.S. Supreme Court had the opportunity recently to determine whether one’s styling of natural hair could be considered a means of racial discrimination, it declined, allowed the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals 2017 ruling to stand.
In that case, EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, plaintiff, a black woman who wore her hair in dreadlocks, applied for a job at a call center, one in which no direct public contact would be required. Nonetheless, the company told the woman she would need to cut her dreadlocks because the company grooming policy prohibited “excessive hairstyles or unusual colors.” The applicant refused to cut her hair, the job offer was rescinded and she sued for racial discrimination in employment. The appellate panel, ruling in the employer’s favor, decided that protections under federal Title VII doesn’t extend to one’s hairstyle, which the court held is associated with culture and other traits as opposed to the “immutable physical characteristic” by which race is defined. The court did question why the EEOC didn’t pursue this as a disparate action claim (i.e., the policy may be race-neutral, but can have a discriminatory impact on a protected individual or group of people). That leaves the door open for the possibility that a successful claim within that circuit could be pursued.
The 11th Circuit’s ruling also appears to directly contradict the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1989 decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, in which the court ruled federal civil rights law barred discrimination on the basis of stereotypes – regardless of whether the stereotype in question involves a trait that is immutable. (That case specifically dealt with gender discrimination and a woman denied upward professional mobility for – in the employer’s view – not wearing enough makeup or walking/talking more femininely. The court held the policy wan’t a legitimately non-discriminatory basis on which to deny plaintiff a promotion, but rather a pretext that disguised gender discrimination.) Continue reading