Sex Discrimination

Eleventh Circuit Upholds Grooming Policy that Allows Long Hair on Women, Not Men

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has rejected gender bias and retaliation claims brought under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Florida Civil Rights Act by four males who were fired by Blockbuster Entertainment Corp. because they refused to cut their long hair.

The court said policies that prohibit male employees from having long hair but not female employees have been upheld as not violative of Title VII by every federal circuit court that has considered the question (Harper v. Blockbuster Entertainment Corp., 11th Cir., No.96-2461-CV-DLG,4/29/98).

Even the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces Title VII, has concluded that court challenges to workplace grooming rules that differentiate between the length of male and female employees' hair are "virtually impossible" to win, the Eleventh Circuit wrote.

The EEOC, in fact, has advised its field offices to administratively close all sex discrimination charges dealing with male hair length, the court said.

Blockbuster instituted the grooming policy in May 1994, according to the Eleventh Circuit. The men told their supervisors that they objected to the policy, and two of the four were featured in media stories about their refusal to comply. All four were later fired because they did not cut their hair.

The court said the Title VII challenge was plainly barred under prior Eleventh Circuit cases upholding work rules that dictate different lengths for male and female hair. Title VII decisions are applicable to claims under the Florida Civil Rights Act, the Eleventh Circuit concluded, affirming dismissal of all claims.

Grooming policies relate more to the manner in which an employer chooses to run a business than to the Title VII right to gender equity at work, the court said. The males in the grooming policy cases were denied job opportunities because they failed to cut their hair, not because they were male, according to the decision.

Judge Ed Carnes wrote the decision, which Judges Emmett R. Cox and Stanley Marcus joined. The Eleventh Circuit covers Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.