A Black job applicant has filed a lawsuit against an audio/visual company alleging he was racially discriminated against after he was told to cut his dreadlocks in order to gain employment at the establishment’s San Diego office.
According to FOX 5, Jeffrey Thornton’s lawsuit is believed to be the first case to base its argument on a state law that was recently introduced to ban discrimination of such nature. Thornton said he applied for the role of technical supervisor at one of Encore Global’s San Diego offices, but the hiring manager told him he had to cut his dreadlocks as a condition to get the job.
Thorton argues the condition contravenes California’s CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act. The law, which came into effect in 2019, bans employers from denying employment to potential applicants because of their hairstyle.
Per the law, racial discrimination reportedly encompasses discrimination for “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”
Thornton said he was previously employed at an Encore Global office in Florida, but he was furloughed together with other workers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In October, the plaintiff said the company got in touch with him as well as other furloughed workers about job openings. He added that he eventually secured an interview for a position at the company’s San Diego Office, per FOX 5.
But Thornton alleges the hiring manager informed him that though his qualifications matched the role, his dreadlocks were a stumbling block. He said the company’s Florida office had no problems with regards to employees wearing dreadlocks while he worked there.
“Professionalism isn’t about fitting into Eurocentric norms. Professionalism is about competency,” Thornton’s attorney, Adam Kent, said during a news conference on November 30. “We all expect to be judged based on our abilities and on our character, but Mr. Thornton is being told in this case that it’s different for him.”
Kent added that Thornton is seeking “to be made whole for the damages he has suffered.” Kent also said his client wants measures to be put in place to ensure Encore Global “is never again able to enforce grooming policies that disparately impact Black Americans.”
Responding to the lawsuit in a statement, an Encore Global spokesperson told the news outlet the company regrets “any miscommunication with Mr. Thornton regarding our standard grooming policies – which he appears to fully meet and we have made him an offer of employment.”
“Maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace where every individual has a full sense of belonging and feels empowered to reach their potential are core values of our business,” the statement also said. “These values are key to fueling innovation, collaboration and driving better outcomes for our team members, customers and the communities we serve.”
The statement also said the company is “looking to learn and improve”, and they’re reviewing their “grooming policies to avoid potential miscommunications in the future.”