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Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal

Abstract

Appearance and grooming policies in the workplace that prohibit hairstyles worn predominately by African- American employees, including dreads, cornrows, braids, and afros, constrain African-American cultural identity and are racially discriminatory. These policies exhort African- Americans "to cover" their race and modify their hair to assimilate their looks with Anglo-American beauty ideals. These policies found in the private workplace serve no legitimate "business necessity" and are merely a proxy for unlawful race discrimination.

Plaintiffs who challenge these policies as race discrimination, however, are unable to prove a violation of Title VII because of an inability to demonstrate that African- American hairstyle choices are racially correlative. This complication arises because courts are unable to provide a precise definition of race and Title VII affords little, if any, support. As a society, we have reached the conclusion that race is not genetically measurable and is merely a social construction. This note advances that the definition of race encompasses cultural and physical characteristics, namely hair, both which look beyond skin pigmentation. Therefore, challenges to hairstyle prohibitions should be cognizable as race discrimination under Title VII.

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