New York employees who wear their hair in dreadlocks may have no legal recourse if they are discriminated against at work because of their hairstyle. A federal appeals court has ruled that an employer had not committed racial discrimination by refusing to hire a woman who would not cut off her dreadlocks.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against Catastrophe Management Solutions on behalf of a prospective employee. The plaintiff was a woman who had been offered a job by CMS is 2010 only to have her employment offer revoked. The company had told the woman that she must comply with a company grooming policy that did not allow employees to wear their hair in dreadlocks.
The EEOC presented an argument that discrimination against people with dreadlocks is a form of racial discrimination because dreadlocks are a hairstyle that is typically worn by people of African descent. However, the court found that federal employment laws only protect people from racial discrimination based on biological traits, not cultural characteristics, and it dismissed the lawsuit. One of the judges pointed out that no court has ever expanded the definition of race to include cultural characteristics like hairstyles.
An employer that discriminates against employees for cultural characteristics may be found guilty of racial discrimination in some cases. If there is enough evidence that an employer treats people of a certain race less favorably than other people, the discrimination may be unlawful. An employment law attorney may be able to help an individual to gather evidence for a race discrimination lawsuit and pursue compensation for damages.