The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the federal appellate court for Alabama cases, recently ruled that a Mobile company’s ban on dreadlocks for their employees does not violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of an African American woman who wore her hair in dreadlocks. The woman’s job offer was terminated after she refused to change her hairstyle.
Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan, who authored the unanimous opinion, acknowledged such determinations are often difficult: “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.” The full opinion of the case, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, is available here.
The constitutionality of such a ban hinges on whether the policy prohibits mutable or immutable characteristics. Immutable characteristics, such as hair texture, cannot be changed by the employee due to that person’s unique physiology. They are protected as a racial characteristic under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. An employer cannot ban immutable characteristics. By contrast, mutable characteristics, such as hair styles, can be controlled by employers.
In making its case, the EEOC argued that dreadlocks are “’physiologically and culturally associated’ with African Americans,” according to a report by NBC News, available here. However, the Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that dreadlocks are a mutable characteristic, and thus subject to reasonable restrictions and policy.
While the 11th Circuit’s ruling does not end the debate on dreadlocks in the workplace, it does send a noticeable signal to employers and employees in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia – the states where 11th Circuit rulings are binding precedent. The debate on dreadlocks has entered other arenas as well, including schools and the armed forces.
Remember, discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, religion, age, or disability is against the law. The attorneys at Martinson & Beason understand the importance and delicacy of an employment discrimination claim and are determined to help you succeed in a discrimination-free workplace. If you believe you’ve been the victim of employment discrimination, contact our experienced attorneys today for a free case evaluation. Our experienced employment law attorneys will help you navigate this difficult time.