OnSeptember 15, a federal appeals court decided that employers can absolutely deny employment to applicants that wear dreadlocks. This was in response to a lawsuit filed by Chastity Jones, together with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, against Catastrophe Management Solution of Mobile, Alabama When Jones applied for a position in the company, one of the human resources representatives told her that dreadlocks “tend to get messy” and was actually against company policy because employees should look “professional and businesslike.” Jones, however, refused to change her hairstyle. In response, the representative then told her that they could no longer offer her the job.
EEOC explained in the lawsuit that “dreadlocks are a manner of wearing the hair that is physiologically and culturally associated with people of African descent,” and refusing to employ a person because of dreads is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that it is unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire or to discharge any individual on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
The court disagreed, deciding that wearing dreadlocks as a hairstyle was something that could be changed. According to US Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan, “Discrimination on the basis of black hair texture (an immutable characteristic) is prohibited by Title VII, while adverse action on the basis of black hairstyle (a mutable choice) is not.”
Jordan added that in the past, there have been calls to expand the interpretation of Title VII to cultural characteristics associated with race, but that “every court to have considered the issue has rejected the argument that Title VII protects hairstyles culturally associated with race.”
The spokeswoman for EEOC, on the other hand, told Wall Street Journal that they believe the court has made the wrong decision ruling the employer’s actions as OK and not considered to be racial discrimination and that they are currently reviewing their options.
It’s not a surprise that many people were outraged over this ruling, considering that around this time, designer Marc Jacobs had his models walk the runway sporting colorful dreadlocks, saying it was inspired by Boy George and anime, failing to recognize that dreads were very much connected to black culture. Jacobs has then apologized (after intense backlash), but it still does not erase the fact that too many people still associate dreadlocks on black people with unprofessionalism while praising white women for wearing them.
Let us also take note that Marc Jacobs initially responded to criticisms by saying that black women straighten their hair and are not screamed at with “cultural appropriation,” seemingly unable to realize that black women are forced to straighten their hair because of years of popular culture.
Many African-American men and women are still being reprimanded for wearing dreadlocks and similar hairstyles unique to their culture to their workplaces and classrooms all over the country and the world. Keep in mind, there are many ways to style dreadlocks in a professional manner on your own.