A Black job applicant is suing over hair discrimination, but the company says it was a misunderstanding.
Cut your hair or no job, that’s what a Black job applicant said a potential employer told him. Jeffrey Thornton is now suing an employer over hair discrimination is demanding an apology and policy change. The company, however, said it was a misunderstanding.
Audio-visual specialist Thornton filed a lawsuit against Encore Group, LLC, claiming the company denied him employment when he refused to cut his hair, which he wears in locs. The lawsuit claimed the San Diego office for the company violated California’s CROWN Act, which prohibits employers from withholding employment based on discrimination against the protected applicant’s hairstyle, CNN reported.
The CROWN Act, an acronym for Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair. The 2019 law took effect on Jan. 1, 2020, expands the California Fair Employment and Housing Act’s definition of race-based discrimination to include discrimination against certain hair textures and protective hairstyles, Yahoo reported. Thirteen other states have passed similar laws, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.
But Encore Global said it is all a “misunderstanding,” and in a statement said that a job offer was still on the table for him.
When Thornton interviewed for the technical supervisor position on Nov. 1, an Encore hiring manager told him that he would have to adhere to the company’s appearance policies if he wanted the job, the lawsuit stated. To do so, he would have to cut his hair, so it was off the ears, eyes, and shoulders and that the company would not permit him to tie his hair back.
“In order to take the job, Mr. Thornton would have to materially alter his hairstyle, and thus his appearance, cultural identity, and racial heritage,” the complaint says. The lawsuit calls Encore’s policy “racial discrimination” because it targets hairstyles associated with race, particularly Black employees.
Thornton previously worked for the company for four years in Florida before being furloughed in March 2020. He was wearing locs at the time as well.
“We regret any miscommunication with Mr. Thornton regarding our standard grooming policies — which he appears to fully meet and we have made him an offer of employment. We are continuously looking to learn and improve, and we are reviewing our grooming policies to avoid potential miscommunications in the future.”
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Encore’s response did not satisfy Thornton’s lawyer, Adam Kent.
“While we are glad that Encore Global has acknowledged its error in denying my client’s employment due to his hairstyle, we have yet to receive a formal apology or a commitment to changing the grooming policy that has had a disparate impact on African-Americans,” Kent told CNN. “I intend to engage with Encore further to determine if they will fulfill all the requests we have made in our lawsuit.”
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