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EEOC Alleges Hairstyle Bias May Be Religious Discrimination

Matthew Barnett applied for an assistant manager position at Home IGA, a grocery store. Barnett alleges the store management told Barnett during his interview to cut his dreadlocks if he wanted to work at the store. Barnett informed the store that he wears dreadlocks based on his religious beliefs. He refused to cut them to work at the store. The Home IGA store allegedly concluded the interview and refused to hire him. Barnett file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which brought suit.

The EEOC described Barnett's hairstyle as "Spiritualist Rastafarian dreadlocks." The EEOC's Title VII guidance provides the statute applies to all aspects of religious beliefs or practices, including those that "may seem illogical or unreasonable to others." Religious preferences of others, such as customers and other employees do not justify discrimination based on religion.

This lawsuit was filed in Kentucky. Many jurisdictions, state and local,  have passed Crown Acts, which prohibit discrimination based on hairstyles. In its press release, the EEOC stated, "No employee should have to choose between their religion and their job," and "Employers must consider reasonable accommodations, as necessary, which allow employees and applicants to hold jobs without sacrificing their religious beliefs." Home IGA did not provide any comment on the lawsuit.