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The New York City Commission on Human Rights felt compelled to stress to employers that city law prohibits them from discriminating against employees or potential employees based on their natural hairstyles after several employment-related incidents alleging racial discrimination.
In May 2010, Chastity Jones was offered a job as a customer service representative with Mobile, Alabama-based Catastrophe Management Solutions Inc., but the offer was rescinded after she refused to remove her dreadlocks at the company’s request.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued on her behalf, claiming that a “prohibition of dreadlocks in the workplace constitutes race discrimination,” according to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Catastrophe Management Solutions Inc. But the U.S. District Court in Mobile dismissed the case, and a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta affirmed that decision in September 2016. “Unfortunately, the 11th Circuit let her down, and federal law has continuously not supported black communities in this regard, and they fail to see that these hairstyles are a protected racial characteristic,” said Gurjot Kaur, agency attorney, law enforcement bureau for the commission.
Separately, former sales associate Destiny Tompkins sued The Gap Inc., Banana Republic Inc. and two employees for more than $1 million in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, in New York in November 2017 after being told her braids were “too urban” or “unkempt” — seemingly facially neutral terms that were code words for “too black” or “too African-American” — and fired for refusing to remove them, according to Tompkins v. The Gap Inc. et al. The lawsuit was settled in February 2018.
“Banana Republic has zero tolerance for discrimination,” the company said in an emailed statement.
New York City is taking aim at both blatant and subtle racial discrimination based on natural hairstyles such as braids and cornrows that are common in the African-American community.