Employment Questions

Legally, companies are allowed to refuse to hire people with dreadlocks. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had started a lawsuit on behalf of a worker who was denied a job offer on account of her hairstyle, but the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not rule in favor of the EEOC. They said that the company, Catastrophe Management Solutions, had done nothing wrong.

The Denial

The company, which is located in Alabama, was considering hiring the woman and brought her in for an interview. During that process, the lawsuit claims that one of the people in charge of hiring said "[dreadlocks] tend to get messy, although I'm not saying yours are, but you know what I'm talking about." That person then withdrew the job offer, telling the woman she wouldn't be hired with dreadlocks.

Alleged Racial Ties

The woman sued on the grounds that her hairstyle counted as a "racial characteristic." She said that dreadlocks were "physiologically and culturally associated" with people of African-American decent, so she claimed that this made the withdrawing of the job offer something done on racial grounds. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, refusing to hire someone based on race is illegal.

Changeable Characteristics

The court did not agree, though, saying that the woman's choice of hairstyle was not an "immutable physical characteristic." Essentially, they were saying that she had the option to wear her hair however she chose, so dreadlocks were not the same as an unalterable physical trait, such as one's skin color. She could have selected a different hairstyle if she had wanted to do so, the court was saying, and then she would have gotten the job.

Interpretation of the Law

The Civil Rights Act in question came about back in 1964, but this case shows how it is still being examined and interpreted to this day. It's important for workers to know when these rulings come down so that they understand their rights in the workplace.