This week, the Supreme Court declined a petition to review an Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision that found an employer who rescinded a job offer to a qualified African-American woman because of her dreadlocks, did not violate Title VII.
In EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, the employer had a personal appearance policy, including a provision that stated it is unacceptable to have “excessive hairstyles.” The EEOC sued on behalf of a female job candidate whose job offer was rescinded because she wore dreadlocks in violation of the policy. and claimed this policy constituted race discrimination because dreadlocks are associated with people of African descent.
The Eleventh Circuit found that dreadlocks are not “an immutable characteristic of black individuals.” Further, the Eleventh Circuit found it was unreasonable to infer that in applying a company policy pertaining to hair grooming, the employer discriminated against the woman because of her race.
This case confirms that the term “race” cannot be expanded to include different cultural associations of a protected class. However, employers should be wary of company policies that restrict culturally associated styles. Even though the restricted hairstyle in this case was “race-neutral,” some hairstyles may be inherently associated with various cultures. Although the Eleventh Circuit found that rescinding a job offer based on a woman’s dreadlocks was not a violation of Title VII, it still resulted in lengthy, publicized and likely expensive litigation.