Black Worker Accuses Event Planning Co. of Hairstyle Bias

Black worker accuses event planning co. of hairstyle bias

Job applicant, Jeffrey Thorton, filed a suit against his former employer alleging that the company refused to rehire him after a pandemic furlough because he didn’t cut his hair.

Thorton, who says he’d worked as a technical supervisor for Encore Group USA LLC for four years and was furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic, sued the company in San Diego Superior Court. He alleges he hadn’t been rehired because his “locs” had grown and the company wouldn’t let him pull his hair back for work.

"In order to take the job, Mr. Thornton would have to materially alter his hairstyle, and thus his appearance, cultural identity and racial heritage. As such, Mr. Thornton was denied the position for which he was qualified," he says in his Nov. 29 complaint.

California was the first state to implement a CROWN Act, an acronym for "create a respectful and open workplace for natural hair," when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it into law in July 2019.

Thornton says that when he interviewed around November 2021 for a technical supervisor position in San Diego, after having previously worked in Florida for the company, the hiring manager told him he was qualified but would have to meet the company's dress and appearance policies, which also covered things like visible tattoos and facial hair.

Thornton's locs had grown over his ears by the time he reapplied, and the company wanted him to cut them, he says.

"Encore's dress code and personal appearance policies discriminates against hairstyles associated with race and is therefore racial discrimination," the suit says.

While Afros are already protected by federal anti-discrimination laws, other historically black hairstyles and textures are not, said the national alliance the CROWN Coalition, which fights race-based hair discrimination, in a 2019 press release celebrating the passage of California's CROWN Act.

The coalition is composed of the National Urban League, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Color of Change and personal care brand Dove, according to its website.

About a dozen states have in recent years enacted legislation that specifically outlaws bias based on a person's natural hair, hair texture or hairstyle. California and New York led the way in July 2019.

Democrats in Congress introduced a federal CROWN Act earlier this year.

"We regret any miscommunication with Mr. Thornton regarding our standard grooming policies — which he appears to fully meet and we have made him an offer of employment. We are continuously looking to learn and improve, and we are reviewing our grooming policies to avoid potential miscommunications in the future," an Encore company spokesperson said.

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