Dreadlocked UPS Driver Loses Discrimination Claim

April 9, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A dreadlocked United Parcel Service driver who refused company requests to wear a cap while at work was fired because he had refused to comply with UPS' appearance guidelines - not because of racial discrimination - a federal judge ruled.

US District Judge Sidney Stein of the Southern District of New York said federal discrimination laws don’t prohibit discrimination “based on locked hair,” according to a New York Law Journal report.

Driver Charles Eatman had complained he was racially and religiously discriminated against because dreadlocks were particular to African Americans and that UPS’ requirement to keep long hair under control unfairly hurt blacks.

Stein said that UPS’ policy was not discriminatory and that Eatman had not come up with direct evidence of intentional racial discrimination.

Case History

According to court documents, Eatman admitted that he chose to begin wearing dreadlocks in 1995 as “an outward expression of an internal commitment to his Protestant faith” as well as his “Nubian belief system.”  The hairstyle was not required by his religion, he admitted.

UPS supervisors, relying on a company dress code that employees’ hair must be kept in a “businesslike manner” insisted that those with ponytails, mohawks, green hair or locked hair wear caps. By 1999, of the 18 UPS drivers in the New York area who were required to wear caps, 17 were black.

In refusing to wear the cap, Eatman said his hair would be damaged and that he would be too hot during the spring and summer. UPS first suspended and then fired Eatman over the issue.
Damaged Locks

As part of his court filings, Eatman submitted to Stein an affidavit from a “locktician,” who said that wearing a wool hat “smothers locked hair,” causing damage to it and creating other problems such as dandruff, lice and fungus.

In his ruling, Stein said companies are allowed to have “reasonable grooming requirements” for staff that have contact with the public. 

“Eatman, however, has neither shown that the policy severely impacts African-Americans as a class, nor presented any evidence that the policy lacks a legitimate business purpose,” Stein wrote. “Thus, his circumstantial evidence that most of the employees affected by the policy are black would not, on its own, reasonably support a finding of discriminatory intent against African-Americans.”

The case is Eatman v. United Parcel Service.