The Wall Street Journal reports that Garrett’s lawsuit against Enterprise Rent-A-Car focuses on her firing in 2000 for violating the St. Louis company’s extensive dress code because the color of her locks wasn’t sufficiently conservative. The case is expected to go to trial next spring.
Garrett, now a 33-year-old project assistant at a real-estate company, alleges that Enterprise senior management harassed her about her hair color for months.
Brown and black hair were acceptable, but red tints were not of her “own ethnic origin” — African-American — and thus banned at Enterprise, she says she was told, according to the Journal account.
Before dying her hair again, Garrett says she was asked to bring in samples of new colors so her supervisors could approve them.
She says that once, her employers were so determined to prove she had recently brightened her hair color — and thus went beyond the rules for an acceptable, “conservative” hairstyle — that they dug up an old ID picture to prove it, according to the Journal.
The conduct amounted to racial discrimination because Enterprise didn’t likewise step in when white female workers died their hair blond, Garrett now contends.
Company: No Racial Discrimination
For its part, Enterprise doesn’t deny that hair — or hair color — is at the heart of the dispute or that Garrett was an otherwise good worker. But it denies ever connecting hair with race or asking to preapprove a particular shade.
Instead, a company spokeswoman argues Garrett’s hair suddenly turned more of a “pink fuchsia” and that Enterprise just wanted the color returned to its original state. In fact, Enterprise says it offered to let Garrett keep her tresses if she agreed to keep her hair pulled back when at work.
“She was a receptionist at our world-wide headquarters, where people come from all over to meet us,” Enterprise spokesman Pat Farrell told the Journal. “Professional dress, and appearance, is a big part of that.”
Company officials are unapologetic for the policy, saying that crisply groomed and attired workers are part of the atmosphere needed to rent cars.
“It’s part of what our founder built the company on in 1957. It’s a distinctive difference, a marketing advantage that makes us fiscally successful,” Farrell told the Journal. Farrell said that “distinctive professional dress” is even mentioned in the company’s written founding values.
At one West Coast Enterprise office visited by the Journal, employees are required to wear their business attire all day, even when washing cars. One worker says he has learned to tiptoe to keep the water from ruining his $175 dress shoes.
Hair color is only one of 30 dress-code guidelines for female employees and one of 26 regulations for men, according to the Journal. The company employs 52,000 workers.
Dress guidelines for women also include rules that:
- pants must be creased
- skirts can’t be shorter than two inches above the knee
- women have to wear stockings on the job.
- can’t wear beards unless medically necessary
- must wear dress shirts
- must wear a tie that color coordinates with the shirt.