Written By Michael Ferrara
Created on 2023-05-18 11:43
Published on 2023-05-18 12:17
"Hey Sarah, have you been studying for the employment law exam? I'm a bit confused about the Rogers v. American Airlines case," said Ben, as he flipped through his notes.
"Sure, Ben, let's talk about it. In this case, Renee Rogers, an African-American woman, sued American Airlines for not allowing her to wear an all-braided hairstyle. She claimed this was racially discriminatory," Sarah replied, recalling the case from her notes.
"Right, but the court sided with American Airlines. They said the policy didn't violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, right?" Ben asked, wanting to ensure his understanding.
"Correct," Sarah replied. "The court drew a distinction between mutable and immutable characteristics. They considered hairstyles as mutable, meaning they can be changed, unlike skin color, which is immutable."
Ben frowned, "That seems like a fine line to draw, doesn't it? Because mutable characteristics like hairstyle can have significant cultural and racial implications."
"I completely agree with you, Ben," Sarah said. "In fact, that issue came up again in Bradley v. Pizzaco of Nebraska. The company's 'clean-cut' image policy was alleged to disproportionately affect African American men who wore cornrows. The court, however, still upheld the view that mutable characteristics like hairstyle are not protected under Title VII."
"That seems a little unfair, doesn't it?" Ben responded.
"It can certainly feel that way," Sarah agreed. "But, contrast these with Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta where a female police officer challenged a grooming policy that required different hair standards for male and female officers. The court held that this policy violated Title VII as it was gender-based."
"That's an interesting twist, Sarah. So, courts can rule differently based on the context. That makes sense," Ben responded, scribbling notes.
"Exactly, Ben," Sarah affirmed. "It highlights the complexity of applying anti-discrimination laws. And beyond these cases, there are other forms of discrimination like biased hiring practices, unfair promotions, harassment, and pay inequity. It's important to understand the full scope."
"Thanks, Sarah. You've given me a lot to think about. Let's hope we can change these issues as future lawyers," Ben replied, sounding more hopeful.
The case of Rogers v. American Airlines was a significant 1981 employment discrimination lawsuit in the United States. Renee Rogers, an African-American woman, filed a lawsuit against American Airlines over the company's prohibition of her wearing an all-braided hairstyle. Rogers argued that this policy was racially discriminatory.
A court ruled in American Airlines' favor, holding that the company's grooming policy did not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on sex, race, color, national origin, or religion. The court distinguished between mutable and immutable characteristics, stating that hairstyle is a mutable characteristic that could be changed without undue hardship, unlike immutable characteristics such as skin color.
The court found that the employer's requirement for a "clean-cut" image was not discriminatory in Bradley v. Pizzaco of Nebraska. According to Bradley, the policy was racially discriminatory since it disproportionately affected Black men who wore cornrows, a style with cultural and historical significance.
The court, however, ruled in favor of the employer, maintaining the logic that hairstyle, as a mutable characteristic, is not protected under Title VII. The ruling suggested that employers can establish policies that dictate professional appearances, as long as these policies are not overtly discriminatory and are applied uniformly to all employees.
In another case involving workplace discrimination, Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta played a pivotal role. The case dealt with gender discrimination rather than racial discrimination. The case involved a female police officer in Atlanta, Georgia, who sued the city over its grooming policy, which required male officers to be clean-shaven and female officers to keep their hair short.
Fitzpatrick argued that this policy was discriminatory, as it imposed different standards based on sex, and she won her case. The court ruled that the policy violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin, or religion.
Race discrimination in the workplace is a widespread issue and can occur in various forms beyond the examples discussed in these cases. Some common forms include:
Hiring Practices: Discrimination can occur when an employer refuses to hire individuals based on their race, color, or national origin, or when a certain race is preferred over others.
Promotion and Advancement: Some employees may face discrimination in terms of promotions or opportunities for advancement. For example, a minority employee might be passed over for a promotion in favor of a less-qualified individual of a different race.
Workplace Harassment: Racial slurs, offensive jokes, or other forms of inappropriate behavior targeted at someone because of their race can also constitute racial discrimination. This is often characterized as creating a hostile work environment.
Pay Inequity: It can also occur in wage discrepancies where employees of certain races are paid less than their counterparts of other races for the same work.
Despite laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, race discrimination in the workplace still exists. Organizations are encouraged to develop strong policies against discrimination, promote diversity, and provide regular training to all employees. Legal mechanisms should also be in place to ensure those who face discrimination have means for redress. It's crucial to create an environment where employees feel safe and respected, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
Discrimination in the workplace continues to be a major issue in modern society, in various forms and degrees. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, US courts have examined several cases dealing with race, gender, and grooming habits discrimination. Take a further look into the cases of Rogers v. American Airlines, Bradley v. Pizzaco of Nebraska, and Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta.
In the Rogers v. American Airlines case (1981), Renee Rogers, an African-American woman, sued the company because of its prohibition on her all-braided hairstyle, arguing this policy was racially discriminatory. The court ruled in favor of American Airlines, holding that the company's grooming policy did not violate Title VII, as hairstyle was seen as a mutable characteristic, unlike immutable ones such as skin color.
Similarly, the Bradley v. Pizzaco of Nebraska case centered on the argument that a "clean-cut" image policy disproportionately affected African American men who wore their hair in cornrows, a culturally significant style. However, the court upheld that mutable characteristics like hairstyle are not protected under Title VII, ruling in favor of the employer as long as the policy was uniformly applied.
On the other hand, Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta represents a slightly different stance. In this case, a female police officer challenged the city's grooming policy, which required male officers to be clean-shaven and female officers to have short hair. The court held that this policy violated Title VII, stating that such gender-based grooming codes were discriminatory, contrasting the outcomes of the two prior cases centered on race-based grooming policies.
The rulings from these cases reflect the nuances and complexities of applying anti-discrimination laws in different contexts, particularly with mutable characteristics like hairstyle, which can intersect with race and gender identity.
Beyond these specific cases, workplace discrimination can manifest in various forms, including biased hiring practices, unfair promotions and advancement opportunities, workplace harassment, and pay inequity. Despite the legal protections in place, achieving a truly inclusive and diverse workplace remains an ongoing challenge. As such, organizations are encouraged to establish strong anti-discrimination policies, provide regular training to employees, and promote diversity within their ranks.
"The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America" by Richard Rothstein, is available on paperback form.
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