Title VIII of the Civils Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) prohibits all employers (with 15 or more employees) from discriminating against employees on the basis on sex, race, color, national origin and religion. Claims brought under Title VII are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and privately by attorneys. One type of discrimination, however remains unactionable under Title VII: discrimination based on hair style.
Discrimination based on one’s hair style disproportionately affects people of color, specifically, black people who have afro-textured hair that has not been chemically straightened. Historically, black hairstyles have been stereotyped as “unprofessional” in the workplace. Moreover, employers have terminated employees based on an employee’s hairstyle, as was done in Bryan v. AEG Management Brooklyn, LLC, in which an African American woman was terminated for wearing her hair in a natural, untreated style.
In Bryan v. AEG, Tiffany Bryan, who was employed by the Defendant, AEG Management Brooklyn, LLC (“AEG”), preferred to wear her natural hair in the style of an afro. Her employer requested that she wear headbands, reasoning that her hair style looked as if she “stuck her finger in a socket” or “was electrocuted.” Bryan agreed to wear a headband. Yet, AEG still deemed her hair as inadequate and inappropriate for the job and requested that she wear a ponytail. Bryan explained that the tension from ponytails gave her serious headaches and refused to oblige her employer’s request. In response, AEG terminated Bryan.