Refusing to hire someone because of their dreadlocks is legal, according to a ruling from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Their ruling came after a lawsuit was filed by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Catastrophe Management Solutions in Mobile, Alabama. The EEOC was working on behalf of Chastity Jones, whose job offer was rescinded by Catastrophe Management Solutions because of her dreadlocks. According to the case file, the human resources manager, Jeannie Wilson, addressed Jones’ dreadlocks in a private hiring meeting. She told Jones, “They tend to get messy, although I’m not saying yours are, but you know what I’m talking about.” Wilson asserted that CMS would not hire Jones if she continued to have her hair in locks and eventually terminated her job offer.
The EEOC argued that this was a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s Title VII. They made the case that dreadlocks are a “racial characteristic” that have been used to stereotype African-Americans as “not team players” and unqualified for the workplace. They argued claiming dreadlocks don’t fit a grooming policy is rooted in stereotypes and is inherently discriminatory.
The court of appeals denied this thinking by claiming CMS’s “race-neutral grooming policy” was not discriminatory. They continued that though locks my be “culturally associated with race,” they are not “immutable physical characteristics.” In other words, they argued traits that are tied to a culture but are also changeable can be used to deny a job if the traits “don’t adhere to a policy.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act has often been used to only protect against “immutable characteristics” and not cultural practices. In Garcia v. Gloor, the courts once again ruled against the plaintiff, asserting that being fired for speaking Spanish at work in spite of an English-only policy did not violate Title VII. Dreadlocks have constantly been policed not just in the workplace, but in schools with various instances of Black students receiving disciplinary actions for the way they wear their hair.