Federal agency sues Louisiana company over hair discrimination

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NEW ORLEANS, La (BRPROUD) – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s New Orleans office (EEOC) filed a suit against Shreveport-based American Screening LLC this week for allegedly violating the civil rights of an African American employee when it fired her for wearing her hair naturally.

The EEOC lawsuit explains that in 2018, American Screening, which makes drug testing supplies, hired an African American female who initially wore a wig made of straight hair to her job interview and around the office. A few weeks later the employee stopped wearing the wig and started “wearing her own natural hair, usually in a neat bun,” according to the lawsuit.

EEOC claims that other employees at American Screening often wore their hair in ponytails and buns but none had “tightly curled hair” like her.

The lawsuit alleges that the owner complained to managers, including the human resources manager, that the employee “came in with beautiful hair” but now “looks like she rolls out of bed.”

The lawsuit says that the human resource manager took the complaint back to the staffing agency that had sent the employee and was told that “employers… must respect racial differences in hair.”

EEOC says that even after hearing this the owner asked if the employee was going to “fix” her hair and instructed managers to tell the employee that her hair was unacceptable.

The managers told the employee about the boss’s concerns but also that they believed the boss was acting unlawfully, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says that the next week the owner instructed managers to terminate the employee and told the staffing agency that she was not fired for performance issues but because the owner “no longer needed her services.”

EEOC says American Screening acted with “malice and/or reckless indifference” towards the employee’s federally protected rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

EEOC is seeking back pay and compensation for emotional suffering for the employee.

“Grooming standards should not assume personal characteristics associated with race,” said Director of the EEOC’s Houston District Office Rayford Irvin in a press release on Wednesday.

In 2020, the New Orleans city council passed the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act, or CROWN Act, which is a law that prohibits discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyle of African Americans, based on a similar California law introduced by California Sen. Holly Mitchell.

Efforts at a statewide version of the bill passed the Louisiana Senate but failed 41-44 in the House.

American Screening declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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