In 2010, when Chastity Jones went in for a job interview at a call center for Catastrophe Management Solutions (CMS) in Mobile, Alabama, she wore a blue suit and short dreadlocks. She met the requirements for the job, excelled in the interview, and was offered the position on the spot. But when she was asked by the company to fill out paperwork for the job, a human-resources manager noticed her hair and, according to court documents, told her that CMS couldn’t hire her “with the dreadlocks.” The manager added, “They tend to get messy, although I’m not saying yours are, but you know what I’m talking about.” Faced with the choice of changing her hairstyle or losing the job, Jones returned the paperwork and left the building.
At the time, CMS’s grooming policy stated that employees were “expected to be dressed and groomed in a manner that projects a professional and businesslike image.” Further, wearing “excessive hairstyles or unusual colors” was deemed unacceptable because one’s “hairstyle should reflect a business/professional image.”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), maintaining that Jones had been discriminated against under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, took her case to a district court. After years of protests against Jim Crow, Congress passed Title VII to prevent employers from discriminating based on someone’s “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” and the EEOC reasoned that the “concept of race encompasses cultural characteristics related to race and ethnicity,” such as dreadlocks, which, it noted, are “common for black people and suitable for black hair texture.” (Although it’s not known how widespread the practice is, other employers have chosen not to hire or have fired employees for having dreadlocks and other hairstyles.)