Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 38

TAKING THE STAND

D.C. SHOULD BAN
RACE-BASED
HAIRSTYLE
DISCRIMINATION

"Taking the Stand" appears periodically in Washington Lawyer
as a forum for D.C. Bar members to address issues of importance
to them and that would be of interest to others. The opinions
expressed are the authors' own. For submissions, email
editorial@dcbar.org.

By Melissa Pierre-Louis Washington & Mikael Rojas

T

here is a widespread and fundamentally racist belief
that black hairstyles - "natural hair" and hairstyles
closely associated with black people, such as locs,
cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, and Afros
- are not suited for formal settings.1 Indeed, it was
white slave traders' view that African hair and locs
were "dreadful" that led to the commonly used term
"dreadlocks."

PG Photo TK

The District's main civil rights law, the D.C. Human Rights Act, already
prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and "personal appearance."
Under the law, personal appearance means "the outward appearance of
any person," including his or her "manner or style of personal grooming"
and "hair style." While this law appears to protect black people's choice in
hairstyle, there is an exception allowing employers to impose "prescribed
standards" of grooming on their employees for a "reasonable business
purpose." This broad exception may allow employers to simply trot out
such "business purpose" as "professional image" standards for employees
that are rooted in biased misconceptions about what hairstyles are fit for
the workplace.
In fact, this is exactly the type of justification that the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit accepted in Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, a case
where an insurance company in Mobile, Alabama, revoked a black
woman's job offer because it decided that her dreadlocks did not "reflect
a business/professional image" in line with company policy. While the
D.C. courts have not spoken conclusively on this issue, they have struggled over the years to determine precisely when an employer's standards
are "reasonable" or not, including at least one case where dreadlocks were
at issue.2

38 WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2020

Patrice Gilbert Photography

Government officials in California and New York have recently confronted this deep-rooted legacy of discrimination, passing new laws and
administrative guidance clarifying that discrimination against black
hairstyles is, by definition, discrimination against black people. These
measures are long overdue, and it is imperative that the D.C. government follow suit to ensure that black hairstyle discrimination is
outlawed in the District.

The authors handle employment discrimination cases at Outten
& Golden LLP.
The D.C. Office of Human Rights, which is responsible for enforcing the
D.C. Human Rights Act, did not help clarify matters when it issued written
guidance in 2017 effectively stating that employers cannot "refuse to hire"
job applicants on the basis of their grooming preferences, yet also proclaiming that employers "may require" new employees to adhere to
"established grooming standards along with all other employees."3 What
good is it to protect a black woman with a natural hairstyle from discrimination in the hiring process if she can be fired on the first day of work for
not straightening her hair?
The D.C. Office of Human Rights should follow the lead of the New York
City Commission on Human Rights, which earlier this year issued unequivocal guidance that discrimination against black hairstyles is a form of race
discrimination under New York City law.4 The commission acted swiftly



Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar Of Events
The Opioid Litigation Wars
The Art Of Wellness: Law Firms Get Creative
Combating Secondary Trauma
Debating The Path Forward On Health Care Reform
Taking The Stand
On Further Review
Member Spotlight
Worth Reading
Attorney Briefs
Speaking Of Ethics
Disciplinary Summaries
Community & Connections
Special Section: Counting Down To The 2020 Conference
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 1
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 2
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 3
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 5
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 7
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 9
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 11
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Calendar Of Events
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 13
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - The Opioid Litigation Wars
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 15
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 16
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 17
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 18
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 19
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - The Art Of Wellness: Law Firms Get Creative
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 21
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 22
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 23
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 24
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 25
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Combating Secondary Trauma
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 27
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 28
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 29
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 30
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 31
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Debating The Path Forward On Health Care Reform
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 33
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 34
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 35
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 36
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 37
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Taking The Stand
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 39
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 41
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 43
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 44
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 46
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Speaking Of Ethics
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 49
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Special Section: Counting Down To The 2020 Conference
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 53
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 54
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 55
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover4
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