A Beginner’s Guide To Discriminating Against Potential Hires
Don’t want to hire a person of color? No problem! Just blame her hair.
In the 1984 rockumentary, “This Is Spinal Tap,” the titular band’s album, “Shark Sandwich,” earns a two-word review: “Shit Sandwich.”
“Where’d they print that?” the band members ask. “That’s not real. You can’t print that!”
We laugh at this moment because we agree with the dismayed bandmates — our sense of the way things should be fails to align with the way things actually are. What’s technically allowable doesn’t square with our innate sense of justice. Writing a “Shit Sandwich” review — however much it might make you a meanie — is a perfectly okay thing to do.
Know what else is perfectly okay to do? Reject a job candidate on the basis of his or her appearance. I know, I know — you and I and the members of Spinal Tap are all scoffing together now. That’s not real. They can’t do that! Except, it turns out they can.
The Dreadlocks Example
Check out Maya Allen’s Cosmo article from September 2016 about Chastity Jones, a woman who was offered a job at Catastrophe Management Solutions, a company based in Mobile, Alabama. The only catch? Jones would have to ditch her dreadlocks because that sort of hairstyle “tends to get messy.” When she refused, the company rescinded the offer.
Fast forward to a federal court ruling in favor of Catastrophe Management. The court claimed that even though dreadlocks are a typically black hairstyle, “dreadlocks are not an immutable characteristic of black people,” and so the decision to rescind the offer did not qualify as racial discrimination.
Oh, okay. So even though the court admits that dreadlocks are, like, ~so black~, race is not a deciding factor when you deny a job based on dreadlocks?
Another unsubtle example of this totally-bonkers-but-totally-legal maneuvering? Lara Odoffin, a black Bournemouth U. grad whose job offer was revoked because an unnamed employer “[didn’t] accept braids” — you know, the kind of braids worn by black women.
So how is this legal?
Short answer: Federal legislation doesn’t prohibit hiring based on looks or appearance — sort of. Companies are allowed to hire someone because they’re hot, just as easily as they can reject an applicant because they’re ugly. What they can’t do, however, is consider someone Hot or Not based on characteristics that fall under the umbrella of protected classes. Those include:
- national origin
- age (over 40)
So, as long as you can find a way around these classes — e.g. “Dreadlocks could get messy” instead of “Dreadlocks are a black hairstyle” — you’re in the clear.
Don’t like someone’s ethnicity? Blame the rejection on their tattoos. Can’t bring yourself to hire a female? It’s her piercings that turned you off, not her sex. Dark skin give you the heebie jeebies? No sweat — that hairstyle is a great excuse for passing up Mr. Right.