In a decision that delimits the concept of race to physical characteristics that are “immutable,” a federal appeals court ruled last week that firing an employee for wearing her hair in dreadlocks is not racial discrimination.
The Alabama appeals court disagreed, voting 3–0 to dismiss the suit. “We recognize that the distinction between immutable and mutable characteristics of race can sometimes be a fine (and difficult) one, but it is a line that courts have drawn,” Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote in the decision. “So, for example, discrimination on the basis of black hair texture (an immutable characteristic) is prohibited by Title VII, while adverse action on the basis of black hairstyle (a mutable choice) is not.”
This decision is one setback among a series of recent victories among black women fighting to wear their hair in traditionally black hairstyles at work.