Catastrophe Management Solutions requires its employees to be “dressed and groomed in a manner that projects a professional and businesslike image” and does not allow hairstyles that are “excessive” or an “unusual color.” An African-American woman with dreadlocks was offered a job on the condition that she change her hairstyle to comply with company policy. She complained to EEOC, which sued Catastrophe for violating Title VII’s prohibition of intentional racial discrimination. The district court dismissed the case. On appeal, PLF filed an amicus brief arguing that an employment policy that requires professional haircuts, and interprets and applies the policy to prohibit dreadlocks on everyone, can never facially discriminate against black individuals as a matter of law. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed.
Catastrophe Management Solutions offered a job to Chastity Jones, a black job applicant. Pursuant to the company’s race-neutral grooming policy, it conditioned the offer on Ms. Jones cutting off her dreadlocks. She complained to the EEOC, which sued Catastrophe on the theory that the company’s insistence on a “professional” hairstyle constituted intentional discriminated against Ms. Jones on the basis of her race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of certain immutable characteristics — like race, sex, and ethnicity. If the EEOC can convince a federal appellate court that discriminating on the basis of hairstyle is the same as racial discrimination, it would transform Title VII from a statute that prohibits businesses from making decisions on the basis of race to a statute that prohibits businesses from making decisions on the basis of anything that might have a tangential association to “cultural identity.” There would be no end to the lawsuits that could be brought by disgruntled plaintiffs. That in turn would transform the EEOC into the de facto decision-maker on what is prohibited and what is permitted.
As amicus, PLF supported the business when the EEOC appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, because we do not believe that businesses should be held hostage to EEOC whim. Our nation’s discrimination laws prohibit race-based decisions, because race is immutable, our nation has a sordid history with respect to racial discrimination in the workplace, and that’s what Congress wrote into Title VII. Requiring employees to look professional in the workplace — with professional haircuts — is not the same thing. The court agreed, holding that “Title VII prohibits discrimination based on immutable traits, and the [EEOC] does not assert that dreadlocks—though culturally associated with race—are an immutable characteristic of black persons.” The EEOC asked the court rehear the case.