Saturday, October 19, 2013

EEOC Harshly Criticized for Suing Employer Over Dreadlock Ban

Photo courtesy of
The EEOC has filed suit against Catastrophe Management Solutions, a catastrophic insurance claims company in Mobile, Alabama. 

The reason? The agency claims Catastrophe engaged in race discrimination and violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) by rescinding a job offer to an African American woman, Chastity Jones, after Jones refused to cut her dreadlocks (locs).

According to the EEOC’s suit, Jones had been interviewed and offered a job as a customer service representative while her hair was pinned in curlocks that initially appeared to Catastrophe employees as neat curls. 

However, later that day during a meeting to review Jones’ schedule, a manager noticed that Jones’ curled hair was, in fact, curled locs. At that point, Jones was told that company policy forbad “excessive hairstyles” and that Jones would have to cut her hair to work at Catastrophe. Jones refused, and Catastrophe rescinded the job offer. Jones later filed suit.

Where to begin?

I don’t know what’s more outrageous—Catastrophe’s categorization of locs as “extreme,” or the fact that said categorization occurred after Jones had been interviewed by God knows how many people and offered a job.  

See, I’m of the opinion that an “extreme” hairstyle is one that provokes a “WTF?” reaction as soon as you lay eyes on it—not something you view for hours before deeming it as such.
I’m also shocked as all get out that any employer would consider it reasonable to request that a woman cut her hair to get a job. I can think of only one scenario where this might be acceptable, and it involves Hollywood, a major career-altering role, and tons of cash. (And if memory serves me correctly, Sigourney Weaver voluntarily cut her locks to play Ripley in the movie Alien and then negotiated a clause in her contract that would guarantee a $40,000 bonus if she was asked to cut it again. Clever girl.)
A few weeks after I delivered Thomas, my hair went a little wonky and become so tangled I had to cut a big clump out. I’m not exaggerating when I say I cried liked a baby while I did it. Adam (then just eleven years old) had to console me, I was so beside myself.  

This is a woman’s crowning glory we’re talking about here! How in the world did Jones’ employer-for-all-of-a-hot-minute expect that she’d agree to cut it?
I dare the folks at Catastrophe to tell some chick with hair flowing down to her behind à la Crystal Gayle that it’s “extreme” and must be cut before she can work for them.
Does the company have the right to enforce lawful grooming standards? Of course. Did this standard cross the line into the unlawful? I sure hope the court thinks so (that's if they get to court). The fact that Jones was offered the job while employer representatives were starring her in the face is more than a little telling. Again, how extreme could the style have appeared? If I were Jones, I’d had told those people “no thanks” as well.
I wonder how “extreme” Catastrophe might find my current style, which is a medium, (well to black folks it’s medium; others would no doubt call it short) curly fro. I’m overdue for a trim, it’s true, but I use styling products every day to keep it neat and more curly than bushy. Still, a fro of any sort would be considered “extreme” by some, I’m sure.  

So, I can’t agree with those who are criticizing the EEOC for going too far. Let their damn daughters be refused a job for wearing their hair in a style consistent with its natural texture and then see what they say.


  1. Hi Crystal,

    I agree with your position, and it blows me away when companies try to exert so much control over their employees' lives. I could see the company's objection to a gravity-defying, neon-blue mohawk, but dreadlocks?! That's preposterous! It makes me wonder how the company would react to my hair...

    Almost 10 years ago I was diagnosed with Grave's disease; an auto-immune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism. The hyperthyroidism caused my hair to break easily and fall out (especially the layers around my face). After the hyperthyroidism was treated, the hair that fell out grew back, but it is now white. Sure... I tried coloring it, but it the hair color faded within a week and looked like a really dingy yellow until the color eventually faded completely. Instead of coloring my hair weekly to keep it from looking dingy, I decided to embrace it. I now have a streak of white hair that is as long as the rest of my hair. If a prospective employer were to tell me that my employment was contingent on coloring my hair weekly, I'd suggest an alternate use for the hair color, and show myself to the door.

    1. Hi Charity, and thanks so much for sharing this personal story. It shows the danger of subjective language around an area that's already subjective to some degree--personal expression as it relates to grooming. Clothes and jewelry are one thing, but hair is attached to our heads! Employers need to take special care here.