Whiteness and patriarchy frame our understanding of what it means to be and look “professional.” Workplace grooming and dress standards, inherently rooted in gender and racial stereotypes, often result in policies that place Black women employees at a unique disadvantage, particularly when it comes to hair. Black women who do not conform to grooming policies often face an unfair choice: either change their look to appear more “professional” or face an adverse employment action. The problem is that looking “professional” by contemporary corporate standards usually means looking less Black. Courts in grooming policy discrimination cases like Rogers v. American Airlines have confronted the legal claims resulting from this discriminatory dilemma since the 1970s but have often refused to reassess their narrow understanding of racial discrimination or allow intersectional race and sex discrimination claims. 

This Note argues that this refusal represents a failure to achieve the goals of Title VII and renders Black women statutorily invisible.

Black women need better protections in the workplace. However, federal passage of the CROWN Act, which seeks to eliminate discrimination towards race-based natural and protective hairstyles, could take years, leaving Black women in most of the country unprotected from race discrimination based on hair. Until Black women achieve statutory protection, lawyers in grooming policy discrimination cases must push for judicial decisions that expand Title VII’s protections. One Title VII case proves that such success is possible: Bostock v. Clayton County expanded Title VII’s protections for LGBTQ+ employees after decades of gradual socio-political progress. Thus, this Note compares LGBTQ+ plaintiffs’ obstacles and jurisprudential progress with that of Title VII race discrimination plaintiffs to determine whether Black women employees facing race-based hair discrimination will be able to achieve the same success—unfortunately, this Note ultimately determines that such success is unlikely.

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Sidney E. Holler, Braids, Locs, and Bostock: Title VII’s Elusive Protections for LGBTQ+ and Black Women Employees, 26 J. Gender, Race & Just. 223 (2023).

Monday, January 30, 2023