'Reasonable' Grooming Standards Not Bias, Says Court

'Reasonable' Grooming Standards Not Bias, Says Court Richard Masoner/Flickr

Does a company policy prohibiting employees from wearing dreadlocks mean it is discriminating against African-Americans?

Not according to an Alabama district court ruling. On the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, Jon Hyman, a partner in the labor and employment group at Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, discusses EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions.

Hyman says CMS maintained a policy requiring personnel to be dressed and groomed “in a manner that projects a professional and businesslike image.” Hair was expected to conform, with no excessive styles or unusual colors accepted.

After CMS rescinded a job offer to an applicant who refused to cut her dreadlocks, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a race discrimination claim. Hyman says the court dismissed the suit, making a key distinction between “immutable, protected characteristics,” such as race, and “mutable, unprotected characteristics,” like hairstyle, concluding, “It has long been settled that employers’ grooming policies are outside the purview of Title VII. … A hairstyle, even one more closely associated with a particular ethnic group, is a mutable characteristic.”

He says the court also refused to take the EEOC’s position equating culture to race, saying Title VII doesn’t protect against discrimination based on traits, “even a trait that has a socio-cultural racial significance.”

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