professional locks, natural hair, Sisterlocks, locks, the knotty truth
Regarding The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:13-cv-00476-CB-M)
Today I downloaded my employee handbook and read it line for line, highlighting critical information to empower myself, whether related to my hairstyle or to my tenure with my organization in general. I sought information to educate myself on where my employer stands on diverse & inclusive hairstyles.
Luckily, my employee handbook confirmed that 'My employment is voluntary and subject to termination by myself or employer with or without cause and with or without notice at any time. The handbook is not to be interpreted as an employment contract, expressed or implied.' Ok, Ohio is an 'at will' state so, yes, I pretty much knew that, I can leave my employer and my employer can let me go if I wear yellow on a Tuesday and they want me to wear purple, got it, but what about my hair!?
I learned via my Code of Conduct all employees must:
- Avoid practicing or facilitating discrimination
- Treat with respect individual religious beliefs and customs of patients, parents and other staff
- Maintain a professional appearance by adhering to the dress and uniform policies
- Dress and Appearance Guidelines
Because the code seemed a bit ambiguous, I wanted to drill down to the policy level and see if any particular grooming method was spelled out, to include locked hair. So, I then went to my company's Dress Code Policy:
'Regardless of position, appearance and behavior is especially important in a health care environment. Appearance and behavior influences others’ opinions about the organization and your department. Clothing/uniform should be clean, neat and appropriate at all times. Employees are responsible for following dress/uniform standards in accordance with the policy of the hospital and their department. Clothing is to be professional looking according to an employee’s position, fit appropriately and be in good repair. Hose/socks are to be worn and open toed shoes are prohibited in patient care areas. Visible body piercing is limited to ears only. Visible tattoos should be covered at all times. Artificial nails are prohibited for any employee working around patients, including care providers, Environmental Services, and Nutrition Services. Real or artificial nail should not exceed more than one quarter inch long past the tip of the finger. Also, clear nail polish is preferred and should not be chipped, cracked or peeling.'
'Hair care & accessories: Hair and jewelry that present a hazard in equipment operation or patient contact is prohibited. Head coverings are only acceptable where required by weather or safety regulations. Hats are not to be worn inside, unless it is a required part of a uniform. Accessories that are a part of religious preference are given appropriate consideration based upon the nature of the job. Hair must be of natural colors only.'
So that's it - my hair must be neat, head coverings are subjective-however a large Somali population exists in my region we serve. Consequently, hiring of Somali workers has significantly increased due to an effort to meet the needs of our patients and families. This policy is subjective; however, from what I observe traditional cultural preferences are respected. The only mention of hair, my concern of the day, is a requirement that hair must be of natural colors only (albeit still subjective). Upon review, I was relieved to learn that there is no written policy at my organization opposing Dreadlocks. In fact, I was excited to accept a position at my health care facility because the HR representative had locked hair! Since I've been hired over 5 years ago, I've seen men and women at all levels with locked hair. My alarms went off when this judgment came out, disturbing my peace and harmony, so my first thought was to finally know my company policies, so if needed, others can know I'm equipped and empowered to defend my grooming preference.
I then revisited the court ruling:
'The Alabama appeals court disagreed with EEOC law suit, voting 3–0 to dismiss the suit. “We recognize that the distinction between immutable and mutable characteristics of race can sometimes be a fine (and difficult) one, but it is a line that courts have drawn,” Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote in the decision. “So, for example, discrimination on the basis of black hair texture (an immutable characteristic) is prohibited by Title VII, while adverse action on the basis of black hairstyle (a mutable choice) is not.
Basically, Title VII says that the texture of black hair is a condition that we cannot change. Well, true. We all agree on that. Those born with an tightly coiled afro kinky hair texture know that is just the way the hair grows naturally un-augmented from our scalps. However, hang in there with me on the second half of the ruling:
‘Adverse action on the basis of black hairstyle is not (protected)’ – Adverse means retaliation, preventing success or development, harmful, unfavorable activities against those with tightly coiled afro kinky hair texture is ok if an employer disagrees with the hairstyle created for the management of the hair (from the integration of tightly coiled afro kinky hair texture).
Back to bad
What in the world?! For the most part, individuals with ‘black hair’ (aka tightly coiled afro kinky hair) wear hairstyles that suit, control, complement the texture. 'Black hair' does not naturally swing downward. Nor, does tightly coiled afro kinky hair texture easily conform to styles of other cultures - unless there’s a high percentage of another hair culture that is straight by the nature of its’ creation.
Another concern is that the basis of this ruling is based on the premise that Dreadlocks ‘can be messy.’ The last I checked, all people with hair have hair that ‘can be messy.’ However, unique to locks, hair is locked into the matrix of the lock shaft. In fact, locked so tightly that the hair canNOT be combed. It's disconcerting that the judicial system is in the business of legislating grooming, deciding on such a contentious, subjective topic as hair grooming. Seriously!? We have State Cosmetology Boards for this role. However, last month, three judges in Alabama decided to legislate grooming preferences for people that have ‘black hair texture’ regardless of the protections afforded under Title VII that unequivocally states that individuals cannot be discriminated against for the inherent differences. The stress of contemplating the management of this inherent difference in a way acceptable to select employment policies and these three judges has been overwhelming to a community that continuously strives to defy stereotypes and fight misperceptions. In this case, three judges, decided it’s logical to protect black hair under Title 7 for being ethnically unique; however, hairstyles fashioned to complement said texture are not protected, validating legalized discrimination.
What can you do today?
There's a saying that those that don't know they have rights, loose the right. The EEOC feels that those with Dreadlocks are primarily of African Descent, a protected class under Title VII. Regardless of cultural appropriation, those of other culture that gain notoriety (cue fashion designer Marc Jacobs) wear Dreadlocks for a temporary moment as a fashion statement, not as a matter of lifestyle due to the immutable characters of tightly coiled afro kinky hair. The EEOC is still fighting to protect rights of this protected group. Employers should keep in mind; however, that a race-neutral grooming policy enforced in a manner that selectively targets members of a particular race can lead to liability under Title VII, the irony and what a tangled web 11th Circuit Court District has just woven considering the majority of those who wear locked hair daily are individuals of African Descent. Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring, especially class-based recruitment and hiring practices that discriminate against racial, ethnic and religious groups, older workers, women and people with disabilities, is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (EEOC.com, 2016).
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Terms of interest:
Immutable - Permanent traits(all things human can be altered)
Mutable - traits that are not permanent
Three judges - 11th Circuit Court
Judgment File by EEOC regarding Catastrophe Management Solutions
Jeannie Wilson - Human Resource representative
EEOC. 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2016/sep/17/marc-jacobs-defends-himself-dreadlocks-furore
professional locks, natural hair, Sisterlocks, locks, the knotty truth