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Title VII's Application of Grooming Policies and its Effect on Black Women's Hair in the Workplace: Home

Introduction to Title VII and to Grooming Policies

 

Introduction:

Grooming policies are used by employers as a tools for directing the image of their companies. Grooming policies are widely used and incorporate requirements that may cover jewelry, proper clothing, fragrance, and hair. Many grooming policies require that hair be "neat," "professional," or "conservative," and it is permissible for employers to ban hairstyles that do not fit within these descriptions. Examples of hairstyles that have been banned from the work environment are: dreadlocks, cornrows, afros, and blonde hair on black women. Unsurprisingly, these hairstyles affect predominantly black women. The traditional tool for pursuing a cause of action based on race is Title VII, which states that employers cannot discriminate based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. However, Title VII only allows for claims of race discrimination when they involve qualities that are immutable characteristics, and courts have not found that ethnic hairstyles are immutable. This research guide's purpose is to assist an attorney new to the area of employment discrimination to better understand how Title VII is applied with respect to grooming policies and ethnic hairstyles.

Scope:

This guide provides resources for developing an understanding into three of the most relevant and illustrative cases having to do with grooming policies and black women's hair in the workplace: Hollins v. Atlantic Company, at 655 188 F.3d 652 (6th Cir. 1999), EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, No. 14-13482, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 16918 (11th Cir. Sep. 15, 2016), and Rogers v. American Airlines, Incorporated, 527 F. Supp. 229 (S.D.N.Y. 1981). Hollins is a case where the plaintiff made a successful claim of employment discrimination based on her hairstyle. EEOC is a case where the plaintiff unsuccessfully sued her employer for rescinding an offer to hire her because of her dreadlock hairstyle. Rogers is  a case where the plaintiff employee was asked to remove her cornrow hairstyle at her job as a flight attendant. Rogers was unsuccessful in her suit.

​This guide will include primary sources, that will consists of case law, and books. This guide will include secondary sources, that will include legal journals, social science journals, helpful websites, as well as a sample grooming policy. All of the sources will be provided to analyze Hollins, EEOC, and the Rogers case. In addition, these sources will cover a recent favorable arbitration case, as well as helpful litigation strategies moving forward for suits alleging discrimination with respect to their hair and race discrimination.

This guide will also discuss immutability and court's current ways on interpreting it under Title VII.

Throughout this guide there will be additional news stories, videos, and pictures to fully inform anyone new to employment discrimination and grooming policies as under Title VII.

First Things First:

The best first step in understanding how Title VII is interpreted with respect to black womens' hair in the workplace is to Google it. For Example,  EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions received much news attention because the case was recently affirmed in the 11th Circuit and news organizations have been attuned to issues of discrimination due to the national focus on the are of race relations. Articles similar to this will be linked under the Current Awareness tab.

The next step research step is to access Westlaw's Practical Law database. This database provides quick references for learning about employment discrimination law, Title VII, theories of recovery based on disparate impact, disparate treatment, and grooming policies themselves. A link to practical law will be provided under the Secondary Sources tab.

The third research step is to begin reading legal, social science, and other academic writings. Westlaw and Google provide online access to legal journals that are perfect for getting a broad, but nuanced understanding of Title VII's application on grooming polices. Social science journals can be found free online by going to JURN.org. This free online resource provides millions of free academic journal writings for anyone to access. These links will be provided under the secondary sources tab.

Further Research:

In order for a lawyer to fully understand Title VII in any meaningful way, he/she will need to read case law. A summary and discussion of the highlighted cases can be found under the case named tabs, and the cases themselves can be found on LexisNexis or Westlaw. Additionally, all of the cases in this libguide are available on many websites by just Googling based on a full name search.

The relevant Title VII statute is 2 U.S. Code § 1311, and states that "[a]ll personnel actions affecting covered employees shall be made free from any discrimination based on— ​race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." This federal statute can be found on LexisNexis or Westlaw, and can also be found at the Legal Information Institute by using Google.

Sample Grooming Policies:

This guide will also provide a sample grooming policy that was drafted based on using the Practical Law database.

Extra Resources:

This guide will also include links to how banning certain ethnic hairstyles in the workplace affects black women, diversity in corporate America, and black women's retention in large law firms. This is a nuanced area of law that can be very complex and many have urged for a change in current interpretations of Title VII and its application of grooming policies. The recent videos and links will help with a deeper and more fine tuned understanding of the larger issues at hand.

Conclusion:

Hollins, EEOC, and Rogers are all cases that reflect the challenges that black people, and women in particular may face in the workplace as a result of their hair texture. Understanding case law, and some of the ways in which many scholars are asking for courts to update their interpretation of Title VII is important to understanding the issue of race discrimination in employment. Title VII was meant to protect race based discrimination in the workplace, but many have argued that courts have narrowly interpreted race in ways that have been harmful to blacks in America. This guide attempts to provide the basics in how grooming policies are interpreted and applied, as well as ways to litigate in the future, such that plaintiffs have a better chance at winning these types of discrimination claims. The primary and secondary sources are meant to give an attorney new to this area, an introductory as well as nuanced view of the area of hair and grooming polices in employment.

The most helpful resources available on this topic are Google for looking at articles, academic journals, and even case law. LexisNexis for easy access to legal journals. Westlaw's Practical Law for sample grooming polices, as well as a quick introduction into employment discrimination and Title VII. Additionally, the EEOC's website is helpful for finding notable cases in the area as well employer guidance.

Research problems and answers will be provided as a sample method of determining questions that arise out of Title VII and grooming policies.

 

About the Author

Renee Henson graduated from Columbia College, magna cum laude.

Renee is JD candidate at the University of Missouri School of Law. Her anticipated graduation is May, 2018.

Renee currently serves as an Associate Member of the Business, Entrepreneurship, and Tax Law Review Journal, Vice President of Finance of the Healthcare Law and Policy Club, and serves on the City of Columbia's Citizen Police Review Board.

After law school, Renee hopes to work in litigation.