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Currently in progress, there’s a lawsuit regarding racial discrimination and calling on California’s CROWN act for support. Jeffrey Thornton, a Black American transplant from Florida has recently moved into San Diego. After leaving a Florida branch of a company due to furlough, he had hopes of getting a similar job in California, but the allegedly racist dress code wanted to keep him and his locs out. This may be the first case to invoke California’s CROWN Act.
CROWN stands for “Creating a respectful and open world for natural hair.” According to Thornton’s lawyer, Adam Kent, Encore is in violation of the CROWN act, which prohibits race-based hair discrimination.
Daily Mail Online describes Thornton’s supposedly racist encounter with Encore Group, his previous employer. He started working for the company in 2016 whilst living in Florida, and started wearing his hair in dreadlocks in 2019. After furlough required him to leave the company in 2020, he attempted to relocate to the company’s San Diego location in November after hearing there would be more available positions.
Thornton came in for an interview on November 1st with the aid of fantastic recommendations from his former Florida colleagues, as noted by Black Enterprise. Apparently, however, the hiring manager required Thornton to cut his dreadlocks in order to fit in with the company’s dress code, otherwise he wouldn’t be offered the position. As an article by Essence states, though employers claim to still struggle to find workers during the pandemic, there still appears to be space for obstacles against Black applicants.
As noted by Face2Face Africa, Kent also made a comment about professionalism and competency. “Professionalism isn’t about fitting into Eurocentric norms. Professionalism is about competency… 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 also claims that Thornton wants to make it so Encore can never enforce racist policies against Black Americans ever again.
Thornton discussed his willingness to change appearance, expecting to remove ear gauges and to trim his facial hair to look the part in the customer-facing role. But he was surprised at the requirement to cut his hair. “If it wasn’t a problem in Florida, it shouldn’t be a problem in California, right?” He also described that supervisors “wore locks” in the Florida offices and that he’d “expected to be deemed professional.” This is despite the fact that, though California accepts the CROWN act, the state of Florida has rejected the act.
According to Encore, this was just a miscommunication and that its core values include creating a diverse and inclusive workspace. Statements from Encore now claim that he meets grooming standards. However, Thornton and his legal team are still waiting on a formal apology. The job is still believed to be available to Thornton, but it’s unclear whether he is considering taking the position.
San Diego employment attorney Dan Eaton notes in San Diego Union Tribune that there’s a limit to what employers can require of their employees. They can require hair to be neat and clean, but he explains that there’s a limit to what they can do as they near a line of potentially discriminatory behavior.
San Diego rights activist and president of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates Shane Harris also chimes in. He describes Encore’s requirements as racist and presses on the importance of upholding policies, especially when claiming to be a leader in innovation and a leader against hair discrimination. He also points out Encore’s supposed dedication to “diversity, equity and inclusion” on its website.
On Tuesday, a letter was sent out to Encore CEO Ben Erwin, in which Harris requested a meeting to discuss the company’s commitments to diversity, especially when it comes to a person’s hairstyle.