Federal Court Says It’s Totally Not Racist to Ban Dreadlocks at Work

An appeals court ruled that the hairstyle doesn’t fit the “immutable” characteristics of race and therefore isn’t subject to racial-discrimination claims.

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A federal appeals court ruled that employers who ban dreadlocks in the workplace are not engaging in racial discrimination, according to the Huffington Post.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 3-0 last week to uphold a lower court’s dismissal of a 2013 lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Chastity Jones, a black woman. Jones says that after she was offered a job in 2010 at a Mobile, Ala., insurance-claims-processing company, a white human resources manager told Jones that her locks violated company policy and that she’d have to get rid of them because they “tend to get messy.” When Jones balked at changing her hairstyle, the job offer was rescinded.

The EEOC argued in its lawsuit that withdrawing the job offer because of Jones’ hairstyle constituted racial discrimination because “dreadlocks are a manner of wearing the hair that is physiologically and culturally associated with people of African descent.” But the federal court dismissed the case; the EEOC filed an appeal in 2015.

But the appeals court, in its Sept. 15 ruling upholding the lower court’s decision to dismiss the case, said that racial discrimination had to be based on characteristics that were unchangeable and that dreadlocks did not meet that definition.

“We recognize that the distinction between immutable and mutable characteristics of race can sometimes be a fine (and difficult) one, but it is a line that courts have drawn,” U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote in the court’s ruling (pdf). “So, for example, 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.”

A spokeswoman for the EEOC told the Wall Street Journal that the commission believes the court made the wrong decision.

“We believe the court was incorrect when it held that the employer’s actions could not be proven to be race discrimination,” she said. “We are reviewing our options.”

Read more at the Huffington Post.

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