On November 10, 2016, LDF filed an amicus brief in EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. We were joined by the Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center and Professors D. Wendy Greene and Angela Onwuachi-Willig LDF’s brief argues in support of a petition for rehearing en banc in this case, which considers whether Title VII’s broad mandate to purge the workplace of racial discrimination reaches a policy that trades on Eurocentric conventions of beauty and professionalism.
In May, 2010, Chastity C. Jones applied to work as a customer service representative with Catastrophe Management Solutions, an Alabama company. Ms. Jones wore short dreadlocks throughout the interview process and CMS hired her on the spot. Nevertheless, after Ms. Jones refused CMS Human Resource Manager’s request to cut her dreadlocks, CMS rescinded its offer of employment. Ms. Jones’s case is an example of racial discrimination that endures in the modern workplace, and the devastating consequences of racial stereotyping.
On September 15, 2016, an Eleventh Circuit panel ruled that CMS’s refusal to hire Ms. Jones because she wears dreadlocks does not violate Title VII. The panel’s decision, like the facts of this case, is troubling and illuminating. CMS used a facially neutral grooming policy to give effect to its preference for hairstyles that suit white hair texture better than Black hair texture.
This is how race discrimination works in the 21st Century, when it has become vanishingly rare to find a policy that explicitly discriminates on the basis of skin color. Like many other Black men and women, dreadlocks are central to Ms. Jones’s sense of self. LDF’s amici filing emphasized that the en banc court should grant review because:
1. The panel did not recognize that CMS’s dreadlocks ban reflects illegal racial stereotyping. Employer reliance on reductive generalizations about categories of people in the making of employment decisions is destructive because such stereotypes improperly obscure legitimate, individual ability, deny human dignity, and unfairly deprive qualified individuals of important economic opportunities.
2. The panel failed to recognize the unique burdens that grooming policies like CMS’s impose on Black people. In order to comply with these policies, many Black people must dedicate substantial time and financial resources to pay for harsh and damaging treatments to straighten their hair, or wear wigs, hair pieces, or extensions to simulate white hair texture.
3.The panel organized its analysis around the discredited notion that race is a rigid biological concept (as opposed to a social construct with fluid delineations) and, therefore, racial traits can be neatly categorized as mutable or immutable. LDF calls upon courts to abandon this obsolete and dangerous fiction, which has been used to justify slavery, segregation, eugenics, and anti-miscegenation laws.
CMS forced Ms. Jones to choose between gainful employment and remaining true to her racial identity. Our amici brief argues that, to fulfill its mandate, courts should interpret Title VII expansively to reach every dimension of a person’s racial identity.