U.S. Court Ruled It OK For Employers To Say “No” To Locs

locs supreme court

On September 15 a federal appeals court maintained that it is OK to discriminate against employees wearing locs. Yep, you read that right.

The 3-0 ruling occurred when the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a claim from a 2014 ruling that said racial discrimination had to be based on characteristics that didn’t change, and the hairstyle didn’t qualify as “immutable.”

Say what? So let me understand. Because my hairstyle can change it is not conceivable, according to the court, that anyone could discriminate against it? But that is exactly what happened to Chastity Jones.

…a 2014 ruling that said racial discrimination had to be based on characteristics that didn’t change, and the hairstyle didn’t qualify…’

In 2010, Jones received a job offer from Catastrophe Management Solutions (CMS) in Mobile, Alabama. But according to Jones, a white HR manager took issue with her locs, saying the style was against company policy.

He said locs, “tend to get messy, although I’m not saying yours are, but you know what I’m talking about.” Jones refused to change her hairstyle and says that the job offer was rescinded.

Jones went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and in 2013, the EEOC filed a lawsuit on her behalf, citing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. On Sept. 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of CMS’ decision to refuse to hire Jones because of her locs. The EEOC is reviewing its options and deciding how to proceed.

Here’s how the Judge defended the final decision…

“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 for the most recent ruling. “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.”

There have been some calls for courts to interpret Title VII more expansively by eliminating the biological conception of ‘race’ & encompassing cultural characteristics associated with race.

My head is spinning but I believe he is saying hairstyles are a choice and not a characteristic that one cannot change like the color of ones skin. But still, every ethic group and culture has traditions. Many Western and Anglo cultures are celebrated and accepted as the norm and those that fall outside of the mainstream are often misunderstood.

Just look at the recent mocking of Zendaya when she appeared on the red carpet with faux locs or the countless school children being told they cannot wear their natural hairstyles to school. It feels like we’re going backwards.

Judge Jordan, however, did acknowledge in his ruling that in recent 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,” but that he wasn’t prepared to lead that inquiry regarding discrimination.

So who can lead the discussion? As always it should be us! There are immediate actions we can take in our communities:

  1. Review your company’s (and if you have children their school’s) dress code policy and be well versed on what it says. Does it say anything about specific hairstyles of any kind? When was the policy put in place? Are they open to reviewing and updating it?
  2. If you don’t feel comfortable having this discussion with your employer at least find out where your state stands on this issue. You can always write to your Congressman/woman about labor laws in your city/state requesting a review.
  3. Contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) immediately if you feel you have been discriminated based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
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