We received a number of comments about our post about the Alabama court which held that dreadlocks was not an “immutable characteristic” and so was not a racial characteristic covered by Title VII. We print a few below.
Cythia Nance, Professor at the University of Arkansas:
“Good article, but don’t forget about the pseudofolliculitis barbae (facial hair) cases (see, e.g., Trailways, 530 F.Supp. 54) allowing for close cut beards (rather than full shave) due to the fact that African Americans are more likely to experience this condition. I mention this because the article’s conclusion is that grooming and hair cases must be rooted in religion.”
Arjun Buxi, a Strategic Communication & Diversity Professional in Chico, CA:
“This was a fascinating legal argument. ‘Grooming’ being a highly subjective and culture-specific term of appearance, minorities have always had to traverse the co-cultural borders of appearance and demeanor, trying to ‘fit in’ with societal norms.
To be ‘professional’, one adopts the gestures and politeness mannerisms of the dominant culture, and so to be ‘well-groomed’, there is much of the same. The trouble is that many Cultural adornments are common without being mandatory, prevalent choices rather than religious requirement. So as the Court decided, the legal teeth for discrimination protection are hard to find.
Quite frankly, employers deny employment for more frivolous reasons daily. Or no reason at all.
Yet, I would venture that had the African-American woman been a customer, rather than prospective employee, the outcome may have been different due to the legal (and power) relationships being switched.
What it really comes down to is the Corporate World’s demand for employee-brand image conformity (which is non-inclusive) contrasted with the legal liberties of business owners. The only real redress is social change, and a new, inclusive cultural mindset. And, I think this is happening.”
Jennifer Dianne “JD” Thomas, a lawyer in NYC:
“I enjoyed reading your article about dreadlocks in the Alabama courts. It reminded me that last year a 7-year-old student at Deborah Brown Community School in Oklahoma was asked to leave the school. She was told that her dreadlocked hairstyle was “unacceptable.” The school received much backlash after the story broke. It is interesting to see how similiar situations play out in the courts. Perhaps as corporate culture encounters more skilled and professional of diverse backgrounds how people decide to wear their hair will become a less important factor.
Annita, a diversity counselor in Grand Rapids, Michigan: “Go EEOC!”