Dillard’s Accused of Telling Black Worker to Cover Her Hair

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By Patrick Dorrian

A black Dillard’s sales associate in Texas says in a federal lawsuit that she was told to wear a hat when she showed up for work with her hair “styled naturally.” She says she was later fired unfairly for not meeting her sales quota.

Whitney Brown says she had been working in the department store’s Abilene, Texas, location for nearly four years when she arrived at work one day without straightening her hair. The white store director, she says, asked her, “What is going on with your hair?” The store director and operations manager, who also is white, both told Brown to put a hat on, according to Brown’s Nov. 6 court filing ( Brown v. Dillard’s, Inc. , N.D. Tex., No. 1:17-cv-00168, complaint filed 11/6/17 ).

Brown later sent an email to both women saying their comments about her hair were offensive. Neither responded, she says.

The case is similar in some respects to one currently before a federal appeals court in Georgia. In that case, the federal government alleges that a Mobile, Ala., catastrophe claims administration services provider failed to hire a black job seeker on racial grounds because she refused to cut off her dreadlocks.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in September 2016 rejected the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s argument that it stated a viable claim under the modern definition of “race.” That definition includes individual expressions and cultural characteristics associated with race, the agency argued. The EEOC, however, has asked the full Eleventh Circuit to reconsider its ruling. NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc. and others have filed a brief supporting the EEOC bid for rehearing.

Fired Six Months Later

In Brown’s case, she says she was out of a job six months after sending the email to the store director and operations manager. Dillard’s told her she was fired for not meeting her sales quota for the year. But she was one of several employees who didn’t meet quota, and some sales associates who aren’t black who missed their sales marks were allowed to keep their jobs, according Brown’s complaint.

The real reasons she was fired, Brown says, were her race and her complaints about race discrimination. She also says a co-worker who hitched a ride to work with Brown one day was told by the store director that she would be discharged if she accepted any more rides with Brown.

The lawsuit includes claims of race discrimination and retaliation under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. § 1981).

Dillard’s didn’t respond Nov. 7 to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment.

The Coles Firm P.C. and the Law Offices of Liz Lamberson represent Brown. No attorney had filed an appearance yet for Dillard’s.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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