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Title VII's Application of Grooming Policies and its Effect on Black Women's Hair in the Workplace: Hollins v. Atlantic Company, 188 F.3d 652 (6th Cir. 1999).

Why Hollins v. Atlantic Company is Important

Hollins is important because it illustrates a more blatant and facially egregious form of discrimination based on grooming policies. It means that even facially neutral grooming policies can be interpreted disparately. To read Hollins, click the attached link below.

Facts and Findings

In Hollins v. Atlantic Company, Hollins came into work with a finger wave hairstyle that the foreman said was “too different” and did not align with Atlantic’s grooming policy, which said in relevant parts:

[w]omen should have a neat and well groomed hair style. Rollers and other hair setting aids are not permitted. For safety, women may be required to have their hair tied back; and [w]hen it comes to your appearance as part of our Company, there are certain standards important to our operation which you must follow. We don't ask just some of our people to follow these standards, but that everyone follow them.

Hollins removed her finger waves and another supervisor told her that she must seek approval in advance of future hairstyles. Hollins did present pictures of hairstyles show wanted to wear and several were approved, but she was retold that she must always seek pre-approval before she wore any new styles. Hollins wore her hair in a ponytail, when at the same time five other white women were wearing their hair in the same way, but only Hollins was told that her hairstyle was too drastic. This type of action from the supervisors went on. Because Hollins was a member of the protected class and due to there being five other women with the exact same hairstyle as Hollins, but did not receive any reprimand, the Appellate court found that there was a prima facie case for disparate treatment.

Research Questions and Answers

I. Does Hollins v. Atlantic Company, arising out of the 6th Circuit, Help Advance the EEOC’s Argument in EEOC. v. Catastrophe Managements Solutions?

Although the Hollin’s court did reverse the district court’s decision that Hollins did not assert a prima facie case for disparate treatment, it is doubtful that the Appellate Court’s finding would advance EEOC. v. Catastrophe Managements Solutions (“CMS”) arguments. Disparate treatment is found when a plaintiff can show that “(1) she is a member of a protected class, and (2) for the same or similar conduct she was treated differently from similarly situated non-minority employees.”[1]

However, in EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, the facts are so distinct from Hollins, that the victory there is unlikely to forward any arguments laid out in EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions. This case can also be distinguished from Hollins because in EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, plaintiff, Chastity Jones was the only woman with dreadlocks that was applying for that position. The Hollin’s court placed emphasis on the fact that there were five other women in the exact same positions, with the exact same hairstyle, with the exact same supervisors who were not equally treated.[6] The strong showing for disparate treatment simply does not exist in EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, notwithstanding the argument asserted for disparate treatment in that case. In fact, the 11th Circuit said that the EEOC failed support a plausible claim that CMS intentionally discriminated under a disparate treatment theory.[7] Thus, it is unlikely that Hollins moved the needle much in advancing the EEOC’s claims in EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions.

II. Would EEOC. v. Catastrophe Managements Solutions Have Come out Differently in a Different Circuit?

It is unlikely that EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions would have come out differently in the 6th Circuit because although Hollins was reversed in favor of the plaintiff, the facts in EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions are unlikely to support the same result. Plainly, the facts in Hollins are more compelling to support a prima facie case for discrimination under Title VII’s disparate treatment theory. In Hollins, there were many occasions where the plaintiff’s supervisors continued to tell her to change her hairstyle. Even going so far as asking her to bring in pictures for preapproval, and then reprimanding her for wearing her hair in as neutral of a hairstyle as a ponytail; when none of the bans were specified in the grooming policy. All at the same time no other white women with the same hairstyle were asked to change their hairstyles.[8] Whereas in EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, no one else was similarly situated, and dreadlocks for many are categorized as excessive, or unprofessional—whereas, a ponytail as in Hollins usually is not. Further, EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions actually cites to Hollins as being a distinguished case, saying that CMS did not apply its grooming policy unfairly, as was done in Hollins. [9] Thus, EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions would not have come out differently in the 6th Circuit.


[1] Id. at 658.

[2] Hollins v. Atl. Co., at 655 188 F.3d 652 (6th Cir. 1999).

[3] Id. at 656.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 660.

[7] EEOC v. Catastrophe Mgmt. Sols., No. 14-13482, at 12, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 16918 (11th Cir. Sep. 15, 2016).

[8] Hollins v. Atl. Co., at 655 188 F.3d 652 (6th Cir. 1999).

[9][9] EEOC v. Catastrophe Mgmt. Sols., No. 14-13482, at 41, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 16918 (11th Cir. Sep. 15, 2016).

 

Research Strategies

The best way to answer the above questions is to begin reading background information about the topic. The easiest way to do this is to go to Practical Law and use the practice aids that they provide. There are practice tools available to get quick background information about employment discrimination. Several links are provided in this libguide under Secondary Sources tab. Beginning by reading Dress Code and Grooming Policies: Telling Employees What Not to Wear is a great start. In order to access Practical Law, the researcher will need a membership to Westlaw.

The next step is to read the case law provided. Under this tab there is a link to Hollins, that will take the researcher to JUSTIA US Law, where the researcher can read the full case. The same link to EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions is provided under the tab with the case name heading.

In order to better understand the nuance involved, the last step is to read a journal article that talks more about the issue of black hair in the workplace, and traditionally how Title VII has been applied. The researcher can access a Onwuachi-Willig’s Another Hair Piece: Exploring New Strands of Analysis Under Title VII  by accessing Lexis or Westlaw.