January 19, 2016

Why hairstyle requirements don't violate Title VII in one sentence

By Joshua P. Thompson Senior Attorney

In EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, Inc., the federal government is claiming that a business’s decision to ban dreadlocks in the workplace violates Title VII’s requirement that the workplace be free of racial discrimination. Briefing was completed long ago, and PLF filed an amicus brief in the case arguing that requiring professional-looking haircuts does not amount to racial discrimination.

Last week, the EEOC filed a supplemental authority letter arguing that new evidence has come to light demonstrating that the business’s dreadlocks ban does, in fact, violate Title VII. Its evidence was a new policy adopted by the Marines that allows women Marines to wear locks in their hair. Today, the business filed a response to the government’s “new evidence,” completely eviscerating the government’s argument in one sentence: “CMS’s policy is fully consistent with Title VII, and the fact that one component of the government had a similar policy at the time this case arose, and only recently changed it—and only for women—is supportive of CMS’s arguments, not the government’s.

So, when the government decided to sue CMS for its hairstyle requirement, the Marines had the same requirement. Moreover, the Marines did not drop their requirement for everyone, only women. It’s long time that this frivolous lawsuit went away.

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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Catastrophe Management Solutions

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.

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