Federal Court Rules Dreadlock Ban During Hiring is Legal

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The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, holding that that refusing to hire someone because of their dreadlocks is okay.

The lawsuit was filed by the EEOC on behalf of Chastity Jones. Her job offer was rescinded by Catastrophe Management Solutions, located in Mobile, Alabama, when she refused to change her hairstyle to remove her dreadlocks.

In the lawsuit, the EEOC claimed that this was a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s Title VII, arguing that dreadlocks are a “racial characteristic” that have been historically used to stereotype African-Americans. Therefore, claiming that dreadlocks do not fit a grooming policy is based on these stereotypes and inherently discriminatory, as dreadlocks are a hairstyle “physiologically and culturally associated” with African-Americans.

The court disagreed stating that the “race-neutral grooming policy” was not discriminatory as hairstyles, while “culturally associated with race,” are not “immutable physical characteristics.” In essence, traits in a person’s appearance that are tied to their culture but are otherwise changeable are not protected and can be used to deny job offers.

For help with employment law questions or other civil litigation issues, call Tracy Stroud, Attorney with Colombo Kitchin Attorneys in Greenville, NC, at 252-321-2020.

EEOC and Retaliation Claims

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On August 29, 2016, the EEOC issued Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation. With that guidance it issued a fact sheet for small businesses about retaliation. At its most general, retaliation is when an employee reports discrimination in any way, and the employer takes an adverse action as a result of the report. The retaliatory action enables the employee to file another complaint or charge for discrimination. It does not matter if the initial complaint is meritorious.

The link to the fact sheet is as follows:

https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/retaliation-factsheet.cfm

The take away from this guidance is highlighted as follows:

Retaliation is punishing job applicants or employees for asserting their rights to be free from employment discrimination, including harassment.  The following are actions employees have the right to take to oppose discrimination. These are examples provided by the EEOC. The list is not all inclusive:

  1. Participate in an EEO investigation, including filing an external EEOC charge or filing an internal complaint with the company;
  2. Being a witness in a EEOC charge, complaint or lawsuit alleging discrimination;
  3. Communicating with a manager or supervisor about employment discrimination, including harassment;
  4. Refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination;
  5. Resisting sexual advances or intervening to assist others;
  6. Reporting discrimination or harassment to a supervisor; or
  7. Requesting a disability or religious accommodation.
  • An employer cannot refuse to hire an applicant because of an EEOC charge against a prior employee. That is also retaliation.
  • Employers certainly can discipline employees for employment-related deficiencies who are involved in a discrimination complaint or EEOC charge. The job deficiencies should be clearly documented in writing by the employer. The employer should evaluate any discipline to insure it is job-related and not motivated by the fact the employee filed a charge or complaint.
  • Even if employer never takes official employment action against the complaining employee, there are other actions which can be viewed as retaliatory such as reprimanding an employee near in time for filing a charge, giving a lower than usual performance evaluation, transfer of the employee to less desirable position, or increased scrutiny of the employee. If the employer takes any of these actions, there must be a job-related reason for these employer actions.

For help with employment law questions or other civil litigation issues, call Tracy Stroud, Attorney with Colombo Kitchin Attorneys in Greenville, NC, at 252-321-2020.

New Charge Handling Procedures from the EEOC

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EEOC has implemented new office procedures for submission and release of position statements:

  1. They are asking that employers provide relevant evidence and information supporting the employer’s position in attachments;
  2. They are asking that confidential information, such as personally identifiable information, sensitive medical information, or confidential financial information is segregated in attachments;
  3. They ask that employers use the digital charge system to upload position statements and attachments within thirty (30) days of receiving the charge. The mediation option, if offered, can also be chosen using the digital system. The representative’s name can also be provided to the EEOC through the digital system;
  4. It appears that the EEOC will provide the position statement and non-confidential attachments to the charging parties request the information; and
  5. The charging party’s response will not be shared with the employer.

See the EEOC website for additional details.  For help with employment law questions or other civil litigation issues, call Tracy Stroud, Attorney with Colombo Kitchin Attorneys in Greenville, NC, at 252-321-2020.