Many women today no longer have what could be called their “natural” hair color. Whether it's subtle highlights or a bright, bold color, women use their hair to express themselves and stay fashionable.
When Farryn Johnson, an African-American woman, put blond highlights in her hair, she didn't know a trip to the hair stylist would cost the Hooters waitress her job. In June, her managers at Baltimore's Harborplace Hooters demanded that she remove the color since, according to Johnson, “Black women don't have blond in their hair, so you need to take it out.” By August, Johnson had yet to change her “unnatural” hair color, and Hooters terminated her employment.
According to a statement from Hooters' human resources department, “When you're representing an iconic brand there are standards to follow. Hooters Girls are required to be camera-ready at all times to promote the glamorous, wholesome look for which Hooters is known.”
While Johnson was required to follow Hooters standards, the problem is, she was the only employee with “unnatural” hair who was reprimanded. Johnson noted that an Asian-American with bright red hair and a Caucasian woman with black hair and platinum highlights were not terminated for their hairstyle choices. She also shared that African-American women were told to straighten their curls while Caucasian women didn't have to follow the same requirements – quite the opposite of the natural look Hooters aspires to.
Why it Constitutes Discrimination
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Hooters appears to be in violation of racial discrimination laws if the chain did not treat Johnson in the same manner as her coworkers. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “Race discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because he/she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features).”
Based on her own experiences and the experiences of her colleagues, Johnson filed a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights in order to receive compensation for her lost wages and to force Hooters to alter its policies to be inclusive of all races.
Remarked Johnson's attorney, Jessica Weber, to the CBS affiliate in Baltimore, “The law is clear that employers can't have two separate unequal sets of rules – one for African-American employees and one for everybody else, and yet that's exactly what Hooters did here in firing Miss Johnson, an African-American employee solely because she's African-American. They targeted her because of her hair solely because of her race.”
In addition, buoyed by Johnson's experience, Delegate Mary Washington of Baltimore is currently drafting legislation that would prevent companies from requiring or prohibiting certain hairstyles or hair colors.
The Baltimore location and Hooters corporate office in Atlanta are not commenting on Johnson's complaint due to pending litigation, but a statement from the company asserted, “Hooters adamantly denies that it has different policies and standards for hair based on race. As a global brand, Hooters embraces our culturally diverse employee base and our standards are applied impartially.”