April 08, 2015 Practice Points

No Blond Hair Because You Are Black? Seriously?

By Minla Kim

In this day and age, some businesses still blatantly practice racial discrimination. In August 2013, Farryn Johnson, an African American, was fired from a Hooters restaurant in Maryland where she worked as a waitress, not because of her job performance, but because of her hair color.

Johnson claimed that she noticed her bosses attitudes changed when she showed up to work with a blond streak in her previously all-brown hair. Unlike the coworkers who complimented her new look, she sensed tension from the management.

Finally, the management told her to remove the blond highlights because "you're black and black people quote 'don't have blond hair.'" Johnson further noted that other women at work were allowed to wear highlights, but she was not because they did not look "natural" on African Americans. At first, her shifts were reduced, and then she received written warnings about her hair. Eventually, she was let go.

Johnson brought a lawsuit against Hooters for racial discrimination. The case went to arbitration, and Arbitrator Edmund Cooke, Jr. rendered a $250,000 judgment. He found that it was discriminatory when waitresses of other races were allowed to work with "unnatural" hair color, e.g., multicolored highlights, but Johnson was not.

Johnson's lawyer, Jessica Weber, noted that it is legal for Hooters to regulate the appearance of its employees, but such a policy must be equally applied to all employees without singling out a particular race.

In addition to money damages, Johnson wanted an apology from Hooters. "Just for the fact that I still haven't even received an apology from them, it kind of hints that things aren't going to change, and they still feel that their actions were correct and they didn't do anything wrongly," Johnson said.

In a statement, Hooters responded to the judgment that "Ms. Johnson's claims of discrimination are simply without merit, and hooters received an adverse and flawed decision from the arbitrator presiding over the case. All of us at Hooters are extremely disappointed by today's unjustified ruling. That said, our disappointment won't keep us from doing what we love the most—putting smiles on people's faces every day in every Hooters restaurant." Maybe Johnson's hunch is right.

Hooters has three months to challenge the arbitrator's decision.

Keywords: minority trial, litigation, Hooters, racial discrimination

Minla Kim is with Goldberg Segalla in Buffalo, New York.


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