Recent EEOC Lawsuit Over Race Discrimination

It is sometimes difficult for employers to discern what constitutes racial discrimination. A recent lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against an Alabama insurance company is a case in point.

An EEOC news release reported a case where the EEOC accused Catastrophe Management Solutions, based in Mobile, Alabama, of discriminating against an African-American applicant for a position because she wore dreadlocks. The company interviewed the prospective employee, Chastity Jones, along with a group of other applicants. Her hair was bleached blond and dreaded into neat curls. After being hired and when meeting to discuss her training schedule, the human resources staff realized that her hair was curled in dreadlocks. The manager informed her that the company did not allow dreadlocks and, to obtain employment there, she would have to cut them off. When Jones refused to do so, the company withdrew the job offer.

Subsequently, Jones filed a discrimination claim through the EEOC. First, the EEOC tried to reach a settlement with the company through its conciliation process. When unable to settle, the EEOC filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. It is seeking compensatory and punitive damages along with injunctive relief for Jones. The EEOC bases its case on the fact that the company’s ban on dreadlocks and imposition on grooming is discrimination against African-Americans because it addresses physical or cultural characteristics. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination in recruitment and hiring.

While this particular case occurred in Alabama, the EEOC brings cases against parties in Pennsylvania and all other states, as well. Whether an employer or employee, it is wise to consult a lawyer to understand your rights in discrimination cases.

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