"So for now, Black women may continue to be discriminated against even though having traditionally Black hairstyles has no bearing on a person's fitness for a particular job," writes Imani Gandy, senior legal analyst, for Rewire.News. "And Black women will continue to be excluded from the workplace entirely, or forced to conform to white hair standards."
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit on behalf of Chastity Jones in 2013, alleging that Catastrophe Management Solutions racially discriminated against her due to her hair, AL.com reports.
The human resources director for the Mobile, Alabama-based insurance claims processing firm first brought up the hairstyle after Jones asked to meet about a scheduling conflict. Jones had already been interviewed and offered the job in May 2010 when she met with the HR manager.
"Before Ms. Jones got up to leave, [the manager] asked her whether she had her hair in dreadlocks," according to court records. "Ms. Jones said yes, and [the manager] replied that CMS could not hire her 'with the dreadlocks.' When Ms. Jones asked what the problem was, [the manager] said 'they tend to get messy, although I'm not saying yours are, but you know what I'm talking about.'"
When Jones refused to cut her hair, the HR manager took back the job offer. Jones later filed a complaint with the EEOC, which took her case to an Alabama district court in 2013 and then to an appeals court.
Attorneys representing CMS challenged the validity of EEOC suit. "Race discrimination is unlawful and deplorable because it conditions employment on a factor unrelated to the job and entirely outside of the employee's or applicant's control," a CMS motion noted. "In contrast, employees and applicants--regardless of race--can control their dress, makeup and hair styling."
The district court dismissed the EEOC case in 2014. The EEOC and Jones lost again when the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's decision in 2016. Without the EEOC, Jones, with the help of the NAACP, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review her case.
"This case raises the important question of whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination based on stereotypes relating to the protected category of race," Jones' filing notes.
Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, warns that employers should not see the denial as an ironclad decision giving them license to fire based on hairstyle, Allure reports.
Ifill says in a statement that "a Black natural hairstyle is not a relevant factor for determining whether a person is able to do a specific job."
"Chastity Jones' case is at the heart of whether Black people can compete in the workforce," Ifill notes. Despite that argument, the Supreme Court denied the motion from Jones and the NAACP. The Supreme Court did not give an explanation for its denial.