Man files lawsuit alleging hiring manager told him to cut his dreadlocks

Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 10:05 PM AKST|Updated: Dec. 1, 2021 at 10:08 PM AKST
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SAN DIEGO (KFMB) - A California man is taking legal action against his former employer after he says he was told in a job interview he needed to cut his dreadlocks.

Jeffery Thornton, an audio/visual expert who works in event spaces, was furloughed by his employer, Encore Global, during the COVID-19 pandemic. After hearing the company would be hiring more positions on the West Coast, he moved from Florida to San Diego.

Once in San Diego, he got an interview.

“I was told that I was recommended by my East Coast references and that I should find the transition to be no problem. All that was left was to discuss the dress code,” Thornton said. “I expected that I was to remove my ear gauges. It’s not a problem. I’d be willing to trim my facial hair, but I wasn’t prepared to be told that I would need to cut my hair in order to comply with Encore’s standards.”

Thornton says he told the hiring manager that cutting his dreadlocks was a dealbreaker and was told the position would be waiting for him if he did.

He then contacted employment lawyer Adam Kent, who argues that Encore Global is in violation of the CROWN Act, a 2019 California law that says in part, “Workplace dress codes and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals.”

“Professionalism is not about fitting into Eurocentric norms. Professionalism is about competency. It’s about skill and respect. We all expect to be judged based on our abilities and based on our character,” Kent said.

The legal claim was filed Monday in San Diego Superior Court. It is in uncharted waters, as Thornton’s lawyer believes this is the first case in the state that would test the strength of the CROWN Act.

Shane Harris, a civil rights activist and founder of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates, announced Tuesday he would be throwing his legal weight behind Thornton’s lawsuit. He wants to see justice for Thornton and for the state to punish those who violate the act.

“Let us be very clear what we are dealing with here. We are dealing with a violation of culture. We are dealing with a violation of rights, and Mr. Thornton will get justice in the court of law,” he said.

A spokesperson for Encore Global said in a statement that the company “regret[s] any miscommunication” with Thornton and that he appears to fully meet its “standard grooming policies.”

“We are continuously looking to learn and improve, and we are reviewing our grooming policies to avoid potential miscommunications in the future,” read the statement in part.

Copyright 2021 KFMB via CNN Newsource. All rights reserved.