What is Hair Discrimination?

Employment Attorneys Serving Northern and Central New Jersey

Black man with dreadlocksHair discrimination is unjust or prejudicial treatment based on an individual's natural hairstyle in the workplace, housing, and schools. It is primarily felt by black Americans, whose hair naturally has a different texture and style than other races.

In December 2019, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker introduced legislation into the Senate that would specifically ban racial discrimination based on natural hairstyles, such as braids, twists, or locs. This is the first federal bill of its kind. It comes on the heels of several states, including New Jersey, introducing similar legislation at the state level.

This blog from the experienced employment rights attorneys at Green Savits, LLC breaks down hair discrimination. We understand that it can be painful and humiliating. It can also prevent you from getting a job or attaining a promotion that you're otherwise qualified for. We have decades of experience pursuing cases of age and race discrimination, sexual harassment, and whistleblower retaliation. We will have your back, too.

History of Hair Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees "on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion." The act also established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC.

The EEOC's Compliance Manual on Race and Color Discrimination specifically bans discrimination based on a person's natural hair. It allows employers to have neatness and grooming standards, but they must account for racial differences, and rules must be applied equally to all races.

However, the EEOC's manual does not define "natural hair," and that gray area has led courts to issue contradictory rulings on hair discrimination.

In the 1976 case Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mutual Hospital Insurance, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that employees are entitled to wear afros under Title VII. In 1981, however, a court ruled that employers could prevent their employees from wearing their hair in braids, because unlike the afro, they are not an "immutable racial characteristic." That ruling was used as precedent in 2010 when a court sided with a company that rescinded a job offer from a black person who refused to cut their locs.

Hair Discrimination in New Jersey

Hair discrimination came to the forefront of the national conversation in December 2018, when a black wrestler at a high school in Atlantic County was forced to cut his locs during a match or forfeit, despite his hair being within the guidelines of the National Federation of State High School Associations. Video showed the wrestler, a 16-year-old junior named Andrew Johnson, crying while his hair was cut in the middle of a crowded gym.

The incident created a media firestorm and prompted the opening of a state civil rights investigation. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy publicly expressed his outrage over the event. In October 2019, the State Assembly and Senate introduced legislation that would add language banning hair discrimination to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. California and New York already passed such bills into law, and similar proposals exist in state legislatures in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, and Maryland.

Contact Our New Jersey Workplace Discrimination Lawyers Today

At Green Savits, LLC, we have a proven track record of standing up for employees against their employers. If you were fired, denied a promotion, or deprived of a job offer because of your natural, black hair, we will fight for justice on your behalf.

We serve Florham Park and nearby areas of New Jersey. Call (973) 695-7777 today to schedule a consultation.

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