African American Worker Fired for Wearing Her Hair Naturally, Federal Agency Says
American Screening, LLC, a drug and medical testing supplies distributor in Shreveport, Louisiana, violated federal law when it fired a worker because of her hair, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed October 27, 2021.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, American Screening interviewed and selected the worker for an office job. About a month into the job, the worker — who until then had been wearing a wig made of straight hair — stopped wearing the wig and began wearing her own tightly curled hair in a neat bun. The worker’s hair — considered type “4-A” on the Andre Walker Hair Typing System — is commonly associated with people who, like the worker, are African American.
Soon after, the owner told managers to “talk to [the worker] about her hair and looking more professional,” complaining that the worker “came in with beautiful hair,” the EEOC said. The owner nonetheless allowed other workers who did not have tightly curled hair like the Black worker to wear their hair in buns or ponytails. The owner then told the worker that her hair was unacceptable and that she should begin wearing the wig with straight hair again. The worker did not, however, and about a week later, the owner discharged her, the EEOC said, and the company then hired a worker who was not African American in her place.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race-related discrimination. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana (Civil Action No. 2:21-cv-01978) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
“Grooming standards should not assume personal characteristics associated with race,” explained Rayford Irvin, director of the EEOC’s Houston District Office.
Rudy Sustaita, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Houston District Office, said, “The law prohibits employers from treating employees differently because of personal characteristics associated with race, such as hair texture or skin color, even when all members of a race do not share those characteristics.”
Andrew Kingsley, a senior trial attorney in the EEOC’s New Orleans Field Office, added, “An employer may no more ask an employee to change or conceal their hair texture than it may ask them to change or conceal their skin color.”
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