A 16-year-old girl said she was left feeling “very embarrassed” after her supervisor at Chick-fil-A told her to return home because her blond hair was “unnatural”. In an interview with TODAY.com, Autumn Williams and her mother Nina Burch said the teen’s hair is “brownish-blond” or “dark blond”, adding that she wears it in box braids.
They also said the teen was in box braids when she attended an orientation program the company organized about two months ago. Williams said the only hair policy she heard about had to do with it being pulled back from her face. The teen said that directive made sense to her.
But she said that while at work on July 13, her manager called her for a private conversation. “She said, ‘Our supervisor drove by yesterday and noticed blond in your hair and since blond is an unnatural color to you, we have to ask you to take the blond out of your hair and then come back when there’s none,'” Williams recalled.
“She said, ‘We understand that’s a long process for you so take your time and you can email me when you’re ready to come back.'”
Williams also said the incident made her panic. “It was very stressful — it made me feel like there was something wrong with me and my appearance,” she said.
Following the directive from her supervisor, Williams called her mother to come and pick her up. Burch said she ultimately called the supervisor for clarification after she got to the restaurant. But she said the supervisor did not explain the decision during the call.
“We already had a conversation about your hair. If there’s any confusion, you can refer to the handbook,” Burch quoted the supervisor as saying.
Burch also provided a screenshot of a grooming policy she said the company has outlined. The policy reads: “Hairstyles must be neat and professional in appearance. Unnatural hair colors or eccentric styles (e.g., Mohawks, shaven designs, etc.) are not permitted.”
Burch told TODAY.com that her understanding of “unnatural” has to do with hue like hot pink or blue as that is unnatural hair growth. She also said her daughter’s hair has never been dyed.
In the wake of the incident, Williams said the store owner got in touch and said she could return to work if she wanted to. “He was apologetic, saying this shouldn’t have happened,” she said.
The company also said Williams was not fired, and she was notified she could return to work as the store owner established the policy wasn’t properly applied. The owner also referred to the incident as a learning moment for his workers.
But Williams said going back to work would make her feel uncomfortable. “No one should tell you what you are based on your appearance.”
The teen’s mother also said they subsequently got in touch with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to file a complaint and explore if “there’s a route we should pursue legally.”