"Banning dreadlocks at work isn't racist but it should be illegal" by Richard Thompson Ford

When is a hairstyle more than a just a fashion statement? Perhaps when it’s a symbol of racial identity.

But that’s rarely the case, according to a recent federal case that held that dreadlocks aren’t a racial characteristic. Lots of people are understandably upset about the outcome, but the decision is correct as a matter of current law. Lawmakers can and should remedy the situation by adding new protections for everyone working under unjustified dress codes. But let’s be clear about why: Needlessly strict dress codes are wrong because they infringe on individual freedom—not because they discriminate on the basis of race.

Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that an employer that refused to hire a black woman because of her dreadlocks did not commit such discrimination. In 2010, Chastity Jones applied for a job in a call center. Even though the job didn’t involve direct contact with the public, the employer required its workers to adhere to a dress code that demanded a “business/professional image” and prohibited “excessive hairstyles or unusual colors.” Jones got the job—on the condition that she cut off her dreadlocks. She refused, and Catastrophe Management Solutions rescinded her job offer. Jones took her case to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who sued on her behalf under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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