Lock-Out: Virginia Moving Co. Says Dreadlocks Reason for Not Hiring a Man

A good candidate should not be turned away because of hair choice

Whether locks or any other style, a job candidate should be judged by experience not hair.

The recent news of a lawsuit between a man wearing ‘locks and the Virginia moving company that allegedly refused to hire him because of them brings light to the issue of appearance vs. aptitude.

Christopher Woodson, who reportedly has 14 years of experience in the moving industry, applied for a job at Lawrence Transportation Systems, and says they wouldn’t hire him as a loader because he would not cut his hair, an action that would go against his Rastafarian beliefs.

So, a company passes on what seems to be an experienced candidate just because he has locks down his back? Give me a break.

Since when does a hairstyle trump qualifications or a resume full of experience? How would his locks hinder him from doing a great job at the company? Would it be because if he swings his head too hard, he might injure himself or others?

Sounds ludicrous.

Lawrence Transportation defended its decision, stating, “We are in the household goods moving business which requires our people to go into customers’ homes and to have close personal contact with them. Our policy states that hair, facial hair, beards and general grooming must be neat, clean and trimmed.”

(Might I point out that Mr. Woodson offered to tie up his hair or wear a cap?)

Many of us in professional arenas recognize that office culture is set by the tone of the company, its CEOs, and often its client base. For example, you’d know a McDonald’s server, a UPS worker, or a Fed Ex employee simply by his or her attire. I’ve seen employees from those companies work in a timely, professional manner whether their hair was spiked, locked, gelled, curled, braided, blond, black or blue.

We know that we are not our hair; but most of us in the black community do see it as an extension of our individuality and culture. For Woodson, it is more than that. It is part of his spirituality. Why should someone suppress their desire to wear their hair however they please if it has nothing to do with how well they will perform?

Just look at the Williams sisters, who took their braided styles straight to the top of the tennis ranks and have earned lucrative endorsement deals. Don King, with his flame-like ‘fro, made millions in the boxing industry. Tony Shellman’s crown of locks didn’t hinder him from starting successful lifestyle brand Enyce, and Cornell West, with his tousled Afro, has been a prominent social and political author, educator, and speaker for more than a decade. And let’s not forget Ursula Burns, who wears her short natural proudly while serving as CEO of Xerox. I could go on and on.

Companies with such stringent and uncompromising stipulations are sending quite a dangerous message in this tough economic climate: It’s a message that says an excellent resume, proven results, and verifiable references could mean nothing if you don’t have something as superficial as the right hairstyle.

Does one give up their religious and cultural beliefs, or simply their right to choose how they want to style what grows naturally from their head, just to gain employment and pay the bills?

I’d like to think we live in a professional world that knows when to compromise especially when it comes to rewarding hard work and productivity, not who has the best press-and-curl.

Tell us what you think: Did Woodson do the right thing by refusing to cut his locks? Or is the moving company right for sticking to their policy?

  • Sun

    This is yet another example of the ways in which subconscious (and overt) racism surfaces in the hiring practices of a whole slew of American industries, using the dubious, superficial excuse that a hairstyle that does not conform to a Euro-centric beauty standard is “unprofessional”.

    I certainly hope that this brave gentleman wins his lawsuit.

  • nvaden@comcast.net

    I believe that company’s decision not to hire him was racist. But with all that experience maybe this brother needs to open up his own moving/transportation company.

  • Alfred Edmond Jr.

    This is not a discrimination case based on race or cultural expression, but religion. This is an important distinction, which is why the EEOC took up this case. If they had to prove discrimination based on race, they would have had to prove that the policy enforced by Lawrence Transportation against Woodson was not enforced with other (nonblack) employees, for example, a white mover with a waist-length pony tail.

    What I wonder is, is this suit more or less winnable based upon the religion in question? Will being a Rastafarian give Woodson the same, more or less legal consideration than he might get were he Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Budhist, etc.? And how does the legal system (or a company) verify the sincerity of one’s religious expression? Do you treat an employee who wears dreads as a style choice differently than one who wears them out of religious conviction? If I say I’m wearing dreads because I am Rasta, how can I prove it? Should I have to?

  • While the case is about religious discrimination, the accuser doesn’t bear a burden of proof to prove his religion. He must establish that the firm denied him employment based on this article of his professed faith — his hairstyle. Mr. Woodson may or may not care that the discrimination is faith-based rather than race-based. At the end of the day, what will matter is that the discrimination has to do with something other than his capacity to handle the job. He doesn’t have to PROVE he’s a Rastafarian. He can assert that he is a practicing Rastafarian and refer the courts to the tenets of his faith.

  • What about Najat Tamim-Muhammad the Florida Muslim who needed an official Florida ID. Being Muslim and female her face is required, by her religion, not to be seen in public. She and the state came to a compromise where enough of her face was revealed for the photo so that she could be identified by the photo. I’ve not seen this photo and I would guess that only Najat and the person that took the photo saw it. Najat dictates who sees the actual ID card with her face and thereby can control “showing her face in public.” On the other hand Christopher Woodson cutting his hair cannot be negotiated or compromised — cut is cut. Come on people, use the sense that whatever god you worship gave you. About 10 years ago I too had long braids (just making a fashion statement) and I cut them when I again started looking for a secretarial job after being an OTR trucker for a few years. I had 10+ years of secretarial experience, but the part of the country, the city, and the companies I was looking at I knew my hairstyle would be a factor. I was seeking employment in upscale offices, suits and ties for all, and a black man with braids is just a bit much for mainstream businessworld to accept. I fail to see the correlation between Christopher’s hair and his job of moving household goods and furniture. Their policy says, “…general grooming… neat clean and trimmed.” I’ve seen Rasta’s (and people emulating the style) whose general grooming was much cleaner in appearance than others with the standard “business look.” Either you’re clean or you’re not, it doesn’t matter where you start (long hair or short). What SHOULD (but often does not) matter is, “Can you do the job?”

  • I found the comments interesting. I have been in Africa for +16 years. Here, Dreadlocks are a fashion statement, a sign of individuality and rarely for religion. In Rumbek,
    Southern Sudan, I heard once an official who wanted to kick out a young educated man from the country for wearing dreadlocks. His reasons, it is un-african.

    The Moving Company’s case is stereotype, misplaced narcissistic values on how a human being should look like,

  • Arlen Rose

    I don’t think this is about race or religion, but they both fit. The company is sterotyping by suggesting that a person with this hair style or more specifically, “not clean cut” can’t perform the job to standards or represent their company in the presence of it’s many customers. The policy is flawed b/c you empower your middle managers to judge the book by it’s cover and not it’s contents…..I don’t care if you have 14 yrs of experience, you don’t look like someone that should represent my company. I think the outcome will depend on what angle is taken and what other things were mentioned that aren’t posted here.

  • Donovan

    You all may not realize this, but even in Jamaica people will be required to cut dreadlocks for many jobs. I can understand why a job that requires interacting with customers would require this. The employee is a reflection of his company. Jamaicans have no problem rejecting someone with dreadlocks. Its not about race. The hairstyle is associated with lower-class, ganja smoking people. Every country and culture has standards. Only in black America are standards considered a bad thing. 

    • In the U.S., dreadlocks are rarely the sign that someone is a committed Rastafarian. It’s a hairstyle for most and a religious practice for some. (I should know, as I have been wearing my hair in this way for over a decade.) Because this applicant had a successful and long career in the industry, let’s be clear that the company made an idiotic, critical, and costly misstep. If anything reflects poorly on this company, it’s that the hiring managers are clearly fools with a limited understanding of labor regulations and an even worse understanding of what customers expect from a LOADER at such a company. (Maybe they all expect people like you, Donovan, but thank goodness you’re the minority here.)

  • Ahmadou Seck

    I believe it has not proven scientifically that there is a coalition between hair and work ability. When an organizations limits its options of human capital they are missing the opportunity to gain smart, talented, hardworking employees, who would have the potential to help the organization grow and prosper. It is imperative today that companies find the best and brightest employees to survive. It seems every generation has an issue based on image. As a young African American college student there is a natural hair movement taking place comparable to “Afro” movement of the 60’s and 70’s. Young women are cutting off there chemically “permed” hair and starting fresh with low cuts. Men and women are growing “locs” as well. In a few years this will be a non-issue. Change is hard for people to accept but the only thing promised in life is change. Organizations should not fear it nor run from it but adapt. Alfred Edmonds Jr. wrote that the business leader of today should be like a surfer. When the wave of change approaches the surfer anticipates it swimming out to meet it before it crests. From these cases we can see that a wave is coming. Who will be there to meet it before it crests?

  • Ahmadou Seck

    *Alfred Edmond Jr.

  • Jane Eyre

    Well, I think if anyone can comment on Rastafarians, it’s a Jamaican.

  • Mona Reed

    I am a proud rastafarian and I have locks down my back. I work for a huge medical hospital. I am truly upset that we have a companies who blantly discriminate against a person. I have can’t imagine the hiring managers being so dumb to actually think locks are ungroomed. We as rastas keep our locks clean and fresh it part of spirtiual beliefs. I am glad this has come to light and hopefully this company learn something. Who said blond or brunette was the best look……Much Respect Jah bless Rastafari

  • it is almost embarassing for people not to get hired because of their hair. Some employers have turned me away as soon as i ask for an app. Its is funny how i could be a doctor, lawyer, or even school teacher with dreads but can not get a part time job washing cars because i look “dirty”. It makes people who say these things look ignorant because they have no idea what goes into dreads i wash mine every night. Most people come up to me and ask how white people get dreads and i do not see that as negative attention at all. i do not blame the guy in this article for not cutting his dreads at all, employers always say dont let work and personal life interfer but the fact of the matter is hair is a personal choice so employers go back on their word. I think a man with 14 years of experience should have gotten this job no matter what.

  • Robin

    I came across this article when my brother was just rejected from a position because of his locks. The interviewer explicitly said that his resume looked fantastic, he has nearly 10 years of experienc in his field, his references checked out, he was very presentable (my brother looks great in a suit)…but if he was not willing to cut off his “dreads”, they would not be able to hire him. As a matter of fact, they grouped his haristyle right in with no visible tattoos or facial peircings. Exuse me?!?!? He has been growing his LOCKS for over 5 years. He gives himself a fresh edge up and grooms his facial hair once a week. He keeps his locks twisted and tight ALWAYS and times them down every night so that they do not look ratty. What part of that is not professional or presentable? What age are we living in? I am terribly offended and, although he does not grow his hair for religious reasons, I wish that there was something that I could do legally for such a foolish rejection.