Apparently It’s Perfectly Legal for Employers to Refuse to Hire You If You Have Dreadlocks

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Photo: Peathegee Inc/Getty Images/Blend Images

When Chastity Jones’s job offer was rescinded at CMS, an insurance-claims-processing company in Alabama, she asked why. The human-resources manager on hand told Jones it was because of her dreadlocks, adding: “[T]hey tend to get messy, although I’m not saying yours are, but you know what I’m talking about.”

Shortly after, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, working on behalf of Jones, took the company to court on grounds of discrimination. They cited Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states:

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer:

(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or

(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

On Thursday, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of CMS, affirming that it’s legal for companies to refuse employment based on hairstyles. Their logic is as follows: No hairstyle is inherently linked to any particular race. Though they recognize dreadlocks are mostly worn by black people, the hairstyle is not an immutable characteristic of black people, and therefore not grounds for racial discrimination.

The ruling comes at a time when dreadlocks are the subject of intense debate. Last week, Marc Jacobs ushered both black and white models down the runway in the hairstyle and angered many, as accusations of appropriation rang out. And though there’s room for a discussion on the cultural and racial implications of dreadlocks, this much remains true: No hairstyle traditionally associated with white people has yet to be banned by workplaces.