Issues can arise in the workplace when employer’s have appearance policies which require employees to dress or groom their hair in a certain way, particularly when employees of certain races or national origins have customs concerning certain hairstyles. In a recent case, Vazquez v. Caesar’s Paradise Stream Resort, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 170178 (M. D. Pa. December 3, 2013), the Court found that the employer unlawfully discriminated against an African-American housekeeper of Hispanic descent in terminating her employment based on the employee’s refusal to comply with the hotel’s hairstyle policy. In Vasquez, the Plaintiff was employed as a housekeeper in Mount Pocono for 4 years. The Defendant hotel has a policy that “Hair should be conservative in style (and in color) and should not fall on the face or obstruct eye to eye contact. Hair may be required to be pulled back or tied back (or in the case of some food and beverage positions, a hair net or hat may be required).” Employees who fail to adhere to the appearance policy are subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment. The employer’s managers testified that the appearance policy was written generally because it is a judgment call made by individual managers to determine what they deem conservative as opposed to otherwise. Managers worked with the human resources department to determine what standards would be applied to govern the appearance policy.
The hotel’s assistant executive housekeeper testified that the appearance policy as applied to hair permits an employee to have individual braids, but that cornrows that show the scalp are unacceptable. Plaintiff was subjected to discipline for violations of the appearance policy on several occasions based on the manner with which she wore her hair. Ultimately, the Plaintiff was terminated after being informed that a manager was going to write her up and send her home because of her hair and she would have to remove the braids from her hair or she would be terminated. When the Plaintiff employee indicated that she would not remove the braids, she was terminated. Evidence at trial showed that other employees wore braids and/or cornrows in their hair during and after Plaintiff’s employment and were not terminated, including a Caucasian employee, who was permitted to wear a hairstyle which showed her scalp with a hair style characterized as being in cornrows or a french braid.
After the Third Circuit remanded the case which the trial Court originally non-suited, the trial Court found that the employer was liable for discrimination under a disparate treatment theory under Title VII which provides: it shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The court found that the Plaintiff established a prima facie case of discrimination because she is a member of a protected class as an African-American of Hispanic descent, she was qualified to retain her housekeeping position, she suffered adverse employment action and was terminated under circumstances giving rise to the inference that she was terminated because of her membership in a protected class. Because the employer’s appearance policy permitted employees to wear braids and other non-African American/Hispanic employees did not suffer adverse employment action when wearing braids, yet Plaintiff was discharged for wearing such a hairstyle, the Court found that the Plaintiff adequately demonstrated that her termination occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination.
The Court found that the Plaintiff demonstrated that the employer’s explanation for termination was pretextual because the Plaintiff was discharged for wearing braids, and not for having cornrows or revealing an excessive amount of scalp, which, as testified by supervisors and managers was not a violation of the appearance policy. Thus, the Court found that the stated reason for termination based on a violation of the appearance policy is false. Moreover, because other non-African American and Hispanic employees were not counseled, sent home, or discharged for wearing braids in their hair, the Court concluded discrimination was a determinative factor in the decision to terminate her employment.
As to damages, the Court found that the unlawful termination of employment damaged future job prospects, prevented Plaintiff from obtaining promotions and caused her inconvenience associated with being unemployed and stigmatized for being terminated based on a purported failure to adhere, awarding the Plaintiff $25,000.00 in compensatory damages, however, the Court did not award equitable relief in the form of back pay or front pay finding that Plaintiff had the burden of proving these and she did not submit evidence regarding her wages earned while she worked and reinstatement was not requested.
For more information about race discrimination, national origin discrimination and Abramson Employment Law see http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-2130158.html http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-2130163.html