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Court rules workplace dreadlock bans are legal

New Jersey readers may be interested to learn that the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it is legal to refuse to hire someone because they have dreadlocks. The lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of an Alabama woman.

According to court documents, the plaintiff was offered a job by Catastrophe Management Solutions in Mobile, Ala. However, during a hiring meeting, a CMS human resources manager commented on the plaintiff's dreadlocks, saying that "they tend to get messy." The manager told the plaintiff that CMS would not hire her with dreadlocks and rescinded the employment offer.

The EEOC argued that dreadlocks are a "racial characteristic" that have long been used to discriminate against African-Americans in the workplace and are, therefore, protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, the court ruled that CMS has a "race-neutral grooming policy" and that hairstyles are not "immutable physical characteristics." According to legal experts, courts have historically ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act only protects against "immutable characteristics" rather than cultural practices. For example, a court also ruled against a plaintiff who had been fired for speaking Spanish instead of English at work, claiming the employee's dismissal did not violate Title VII.

Employees who believe they are experiencing workplace discrimination may find relief by contacting an employment attorney. Legal counsel could carefully review the case and explain all legal remedies available. If a lawsuit is recommended, an attorney could show an employee how to properly document incidents of discrimination and help file a complaint with the EEOC.

Source: NBC News, "U.S. Court Rules Dreadlock Ban During Hiring Process Is Legal," Noel Gutierrez-Morfin, Feb. 21, 2017

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