What does hair have to do with African descendant women’s employment opportunities in the 21st century? In this Article, Professor Greene demonstrates that Black women’s natural hair, though irrelevant to their ability to perform their jobs, constitutes a real and significant barrier to Black women’s acquisition and maintenance of employment as well as their enjoyment of equality, inclusion, and dignity in contemporary workplaces. For nearly half a century, the federal judiciary has played a pivotal role in establishing and preserving this status quo. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal’s recent decision in EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions exacerbates what Professor Greene calls employers’ “hyper-regulation of Black women’s bodies via their hair.” This Article considers how federal courts and namely the Eleventh Circuit have issued hair splitting decisions in race-based “grooming codes discrimination cases” that decree: federal anti-discrimination law protects African descendants when they are discriminated against for adorning afros but statutory protection ceases once they grow their naturally textured or curly hair long or don it in braids, twists, or locks. Professor Greene explains that courts’ strict application of a “legal fiction” known as the immutability doctrine—and the biological notion of race that informs it—have greatly contributed to this incoherency in anti-discrimination law, which triggers troubling, tangible consequences in the lives of Black women.
D. Wendy Greene,
Splitting Hairs: The Eleventh Circuit’s Take on Workplace Bans Against Black Women’s Natural Hair in EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions,
71 U. Mia. L. Rev.
Available at: https://repository.law.miami.edu/umlr/vol71/iss4/5