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$25,000 judgment awarded in employment discrimination hair trial

A workplace policy that imposes the same rules on all employees seems like a wise management decision. Rules, like a company dress code, can be the same for everyone but may disadvantage protected class workers, as outlined the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

New Jersey employment law cases sometimes deal with disparate impact or disparate treatment claims. Disparate impact refers to the non-discriminatory, negative effect of a work policy on a protected group. Disparate treatment happens when an employer intentionally discriminates between protected and non-protected class workers.

A dispute over hair between an ex-housekeeper and her former Poconos resort employer took six years to resolve. The resort, part of a global chain of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, imposed an employee dress code which placed limitations on worker hairstyles.

The lawsuit filed by the African American-Hispanic housekeeper alleged disparate impact and treatment by Caesar's Paradise Stream management. The woman was disciplined twice for wearing twisted or braided hair on the job and fired in 2007, when she refused an order to undo the braids.

The company's policy did not forbid the hairstyle, but drew the line when braids exposed a worker's scalp. During disciplinary actions, the biracial employee was told to wear a hat or was sent home from work.

The employment complaint stated the company inconsistently applied the grooming rule. Some workers wearing cornrows were forced to put trash bags on their heads at work while others, including Caucasian employees with the same style and scalp exposure, were not disciplined.

A judge denied the disparate impact claim, but found the disparate treatment charge had merit. Last month, a federal judge decided the resort discriminated against the plaintiff and used the worker's hairstyle as an excuse to fire her.

The ex-housekeeper was awarded $25,000. Compensation did not include the plaintiff's request for back pay and wages she might have earned during reinstatement.


Source: 
courthousenews.com, "Starwood Hotels Must Pay for Firing" Rose Bouboushian, Dec. 09, 2013

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