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A United Parcel Service driver fired for refusing to cover his dreadlocks with a cap cannot sue for racial and religious discrimination, a federal judge for the Southern District of New York has ruled. Saying that “it is beyond cavil that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on locked hair,” U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein ruled that UPS had come forward with evidence sufficient for a jury to conclude that the company fired driver Charles Eatman “because of his refusal to comply with the company’s appearance guidelines.” The judge made his ruling in Eatman v. United Parcel Service, 99 Civ. 9523, despite Eatman’s claim that dreadlocked hair is “definitely African-American hairstyle,” and that the company’s requirement that employees keep long hair under control disproportionately affected blacks. Eatman began wearing dreadlocks in 1995 as “an outward expression of an internal commitment to his Protestant faith” as well as his “Nubian belief system.” But Eatman, during a deposition, conceded that his decision to wear dreadlocks was “a personal choice” and not mandated by his religion. His dreadlocks violated the company’s requirement that employees wear their hair in a “businesslike manner.” Supervisors who found ponytails, mohawks, green hair or locked hair could insist that employees wear caps. By 1999, of the 18 UPS drivers in the New York area who were required to wear caps, 17 were black. Eatman claimed that he was subjected to harassment at work from fellow employees and one supervisor. Eatman also said that a supervisor told him that a sun visor was inadequate and ordered him to wear a wool hat to cover his locks. Eatman, fearing damage to his hair and arguing that the wool hat was uncomfortable to wear during the warmer months, was suspended and ultimately fired for refusing to wear it. After filing suit in the Southern District of New York, Eatman presented the judge with an affidavit from an expert “locktician,” who said that wearing a wool hat “smothers locked hair,” causing damage to it and creating other problems such as dandruff, lice and fungus. SUMMARY JUDGMENT On UPS’ motion for summary judgment, Judge Stein said that UPS’ policy was not facially discriminatory, and that Eatman had failed to produce direct evidence of intentional racial discrimination. Even assuming that Eatman was fired “under circumstances giving rise to an inference of racial discrimination,” Stein said, UPS had countered that inference by producing evidence sufficient for a jury to conclude that UPS fired Eatman for a legitimate reason. It is an aspect of “managerial responsibility,” the judge said, to maintain “reasonable grooming requirements for employees who deal with customers ….” Stein said further that “it is not impossible to imagine a situation in which a frivolous appearance guideline so disparately impacts a protected class” that a jury could infer that a guideline might be subterfuge for discrimination. “Eatman, however, has neither shown that the policy severely impacts African-Americans as a class, nor presented any evidence that the policy lacks a legitimate business purpose,” he said. “Thus, his circumstantial evidence that most of the employees affected by the policy are black would not, on its own, reasonably support a finding of discriminatory intent against African-Americans.” Denise Clark and Joseph Baumgarten of Proskauer Rose represented UPS. Minna J. Kotkin of BLS Legal Services Corp. represented Eatman.

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