A hotel chef in New York filed a discrimination suit against his employer for terminating him after he refused to cut his hair. He claimed the employer’s hair policy was selectively enforced and discriminated against him because he is male. His lawsuit was initially dismissed by the trial court, but the appellate court disagreed and reversed the decision, in part.
Allegria Hotel’s hair policy
The employee in this case was a line cook for the hotel and had long hair when he was hired in 2009. However, in 2012 he was instructed to cut his hair because it was “too long.” According to the company’s hair policy, men’s hair was required to be cut above the shirt collar. The same requirement did not apply to female employees. When the chef was told to cut his hair, he complained that the policy was discriminatory against male employees. He was given a deadline to cut his hair or face discipline. When he refused to comply, he was terminated.
Employment claims against the hotel were dismissed
Upon his termination, the chef sued the hotel for gender discrimination and retaliation. He alleged that the hotel’s hair policy was “inherently discriminatory” because it required different hair lengths based on gender and that the hotel selectively enforced the policy by allowing women to violate other aspects of the policy but not men. The hotel filed a motion to dismiss and the trial court held, basically, that claims of inconsistent policies regarding hair length for men and women are not recognized under Title VII. The motion to dismiss was granted as to that issue.
With regard to the assertion that the policy was selectively enforced, the court found that there was sufficient evidence for the claim to proceed after the male chef offered photos of female employees with “streaked” hair that were not disciplined for their purported violation of the policy. His retaliation claim was also allowed to proceed.
Selective enforcement of policy may have saved the claim
In another case involving the dismissal of the same type of sex discrimination and unlawful retaliation claims based on a hair length policy, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the decision. However, the Second Circuit in the New York case determined that the difference was the selective enforcement of the hair policy.
While an employer can have a grooming policy that differentiates requirements based on gender, the employer must, nonetheless, enforce those policies consistently between male and female employees in order to avoid discrimination claims. Those policies should not unreasonably burden one gender more than another. This is where consistent application of company policies becomes very important.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Michel | King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!