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Employers Allowed to Deny Employment to Those with Dreadlocks, Court Rules
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A black woman with dreadlocks.

A black woman with dreadlocks.

On September 15th, a federal appeals court ruled that employers can decide not to hire a potential candidate based on their hairstyle – in this case, specifically dreadlocks.

Chasity Jones, a black woman, along with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, brought a case against company Catastrophe Management Solutions alleging that Jones was unfairly denied a job because of her dreadlocks. According to the case, a human resources representative offered Jones a job, but told her that “her hairstyle was against company policy, as dreadlocks ‘tend to get messy.'” When Jones refused to cut her dreadlocks off, her job offer was rescinded.

  
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The lawsuit and the EEOC claimed that this was illegal racial discrimination, because “dreadlocks are a manner of wearing the hair that is physiologically and culturally associated with people of African descent.”

The case, however, came down to the question of whether dreadlocks were a “mutable” or “immutable” characteristic of being African American. U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan said, in the ruling, “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.” For example, if the case had been simply about the texture of Jones’s hair (an immutable characteristic), it would have been unlawful discrimination. However, because Jones can control her hairstyle, workplaces can make guidelines about whether that particular mutable choice is work-appropriate.

Based on this ruling, employers can deny employment to applicants based on their dreadlocks, a hairstyle traditionally associated with black men and women that has no impact on their job qualifications.

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