Employers Can Now Legally Discriminate Against People With Dreadlocks


Naturalistas, beware. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has made it legal for employers to discriminate against applicants and employees with dreadlocks.

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit on behalf of Chastity Jones, a Mobile, Alabama, woman, after Catastrophe Management Solutions rescinded a job offer because of her dreadlocks. In May 2010, Jeannie Wilson, a human resources manager at the claims processing company, informed Jones along with other applicants that they had been hired. But shortly after that, during a private meeting, Wilson sang a different tune.

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“Before Ms. Jones got up to leave, Ms. Wilson asked her whether she had her hair in dreadlocks. Ms. Jones said yes, and Ms. Wilson replied that CMS could not hire her ‘with the dreadlocks,’” according to the case file. “When Ms. Jones asked what the problem was, Ms. Wilson said ‘they tend to get messy, although I’m not saying yours are, but you know what I’m talking about.’ Ms. Wilson told Ms. Jones about a male applicant who was asked to cut off his dreadlocks in order to obtain a job with CMS.”

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Jones refused to chop her locks. In return, “Ms. Wilson told her that CMS could not hire her, and asked her to return the paperwork she had been given. Ms. Jones did as requested and left,” the case file continues.

At the time, CMS had a “race-neutral grooming policy” requesting that employees have hairstyles that “reflect a business/professional image,” per the case file. Jones’ dreadlocks, a common natural hairstyle for black men and women, didn’t fall under that umbrella. The EEOC asserted that CMS violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.” 

The court disagreed, maintaining that dreadlocks, though “culturally associated with race,” aren’t an “immutable characteristic of black persons.” 

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