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The crux of the disparate treatment discrimination inquiry, and the question the McDonnell Douglas framework seeks to answer, is whether the employer intentionally discriminated against particular persons on an impermissible basis, not whether there was a disparate impact on a protected group as a whole. An allegation of adverse consequences, without more, is not sufficient to state a claim for disparate treatment.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") filed suit on behalf of Chastity Jones, a black job applicant whose offer of employment was rescinded by Catastrophe Management Solutions ("CMS") pursuant to its race-neutral grooming policy when she refused to cut off her dreadlocks. The EEOC alleged that CMS' conduct constituted discrimination on the basis of Ms. Jones' race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a)(1) & 2000e-2(m). The district court dismissed the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) because it did not plausibly allege intentional racial discrimination by CMS against Ms. Jones. The district court also denied the EEOC's motion for leave to amend, concluding that the proposed amended complaint would be futile. The EEOC appealed.
Did CMS' conduct constitute discrimination on the basis of Ms. Jones' race?
The EEOC failed to state a claim for disparate treatment of an employee on the basis of race in alleging that an employee was asked to cut her dreadlocks hairstyle pursuant to a race-neutral grooming policy requiring a professional and businesslike image and forbidding "excessive hairstyles." Although dreadlocks were a manner of wearing hair that was common for black people and suitable for black hair texture, they were not an immutable characteristic of black persons. The definition of "race" in 1964 when Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. §§ 2000e-2(a)(1) & 2000e-2(m), was enacted, did not include individual expression tied to a protected race but included inherited physical characteristics, and dreadlocks were not an immutable characteristic of black persons.