Hair Discrimination: A Possible Symptom of Race Discrimination

Is hair discrimination a symptom of race discrimination in the workplace? The argument remains heated. Some believe that employers who mandate certain hair requirements on certain types of hair are discriminating against the legally protected classes of different races. These grooming requirements most often target employees with coarse, curly, or nappy hair.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) believes that hair discrimination might as well be race discrimination. However, the Supreme Court hasn’t set any guideline in place. Lower courts must make their own decisions on the subject.

Hair Discrimination: Main Points of Arguments

Working America is set up to benefit those who can conform to a certain appearance. While most races have straight hair, African Americans do not. To obtain the socially accepted hair styles, they must spend hours and thousands of dollars on hair care. Meanwhile, courts consider certain hairstyles not to be an immutable characteristic of race, which means that an employer can deny an employee’s desire to wear dreadlocks or natural hair.

Why do Some Say this is a Civil Rights Issue?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has expanded over the years through amendments to include more and more legally protected classes from workplace discrimination. In protecting against race discrimination, there are those who believe that Title VII should incorporate hair discrimination with race discrimination. Advocates argue that by requiring black hair to fit hair standards of white people, it’s basically saying that black hair is unprofessional.

While the 11th Circuit allowed an employer to ban dreadlocks in the workplace, the United States army has loosened grooming regulations, issuing a directive to allow female soldier to wear dreadlocks.

Can I Sue for Hair Discrimination?

No, at this time, the law does not protect employees from discrimination due to hair. But, if a coworker or manager continues to make comments about your hair in relation to your race, you may have a case for hostile work environment. Be sure to understand what constitutes discrimination in the workplace when determining if you have a case under the law.

Are You Part of a Legally Protected Classes?

The law does protect men and women who are a part of a legally protected class. To discriminate against an employee due to their class is illegal and you can sue for discrimination. If you are one of the below classes, you may have a case under law.

  • race
  • color
  • national origin
  • religion
  • gender
  • disability
  • age
  • GED rather than high school diploma
  • need of service animal
  • military or veteran

Hair discrimination is most closely related to race discrimination. These minority employees are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act from employment discrimination. If you’re experiencing comments about your hair as well as your race, it’s very likely that you’re experiencing race discrimination. Workplace harassment often looks like physical intimidation or verbal threats.

Recognize Workplace Discrimination

To challenge discrimination in the workplace, employees must be able to recognize when discrimination is occurring. Certain actions and comments reveal the presence of discrimination. Employees need to know what those actions are to protect their employee rights.

  • Unwarranted dismissal
  • Segregation
  • Unequal pay
  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Expected sexual favors
  • Unfair project assignment
  • Derogatory statements
  • Unequal workplace policy
  • Unfair workplace conditions


If you believe you have faced race discrimination, reach out to a lawyer to discuss your options under the law: (412) 626-5626 or