New York residents who are looking for a job may be interested to learn that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has ruled that a business could refuse to hire someone who has dreadlocks. Essentially, the court argued that traits that are changeable, such as hairstyles, are not protected by discrimination laws even if they are tied to a person's culture.
The lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a woman who had her job offer rescinded due to her hairstyle. According to the lawsuit, a human resource manager for the company told the woman that they would not hire her due to her dreadlocks as they "tend to get messy". The EEOC argued that this was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as dreadlocks were often considered to be a "racial characteristic".
The courts have routinely interpreted Title VII to only protect characteristics that cannot be changed. In the past, cultural practices have not been protected. For example, a court ruled against the plaintiff in one case where a person was fired for speaking Spanish at work in violation of the employer's English-only policy.
By law, employees are protected against certain types of workplace discrimination. However, this protection often only covers discrimination concerning factors that people cannot change about themselves. If a person is not hired or is terminated due to a characteristic that is immutable, such as race or disability, an employment law attorney could be of assistance in filing a lawsuit seeking lost wages and other appropriate damages.