The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) forbids workplace discrimination based on race. While many people believe that racial discrimination comprises overt actions of racism, this is only part of the story. Subtle, insidious actions and comments can also prove discriminatory.
One such action is the banning of traditionally black hairstyles such as dreadlocks. At least, this is what one Texas court recently determined. And its ruling could have widespread implications for workplace discrimination in the state.
Federal court: schools cannot ban dreadlocks
Even if school districts or employers claim to embrace diversity, their actions often indicate otherwise. Earlier this year, a school district in the Houston metro area passed a rule banning male students from wearing their hair past their ears. Constituents expressed outrage when they discovered that the district meant to prevent black male students from wearing dreadlocks.
The U.S. District Court in Houston ruled against the hair policy, prompting praise from advocates of racial diversity. Two black students have discrimination lawsuits pending against the district.
What does this mean for employment law?
Though the district court’s ruling applies to only the school district, it could set a precedent for future employment law rulings. State lawmakers have already taken notice. The Texas Legislative Black Caucus intends to draft a bill to prevent racially motivated discrimination against black hairstyles in the workplace.
If nothing else, the incident raised awareness of the subtle acts of racism that students and workers face every day. Though employers do have the right to prohibit certain hairstyles, this does not mean that it is acceptable—especially if it is motivated by racism. Employees, like students, have the right to seek counsel and even file lawsuits if necessary to ensure a discrimination-free work environment.