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Law School Case Brief

Rogers v. Am. Airlines, Inc. - 527 F. Supp. 229 (S.D.N.Y. 1981)


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is directed only at specific impermissible bases of discrimination-race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. National origin must not be confused with ethnic or sociocultural traits. Save for religion, the discriminations on which the Act focuses its laser of prohibition are those that are either beyond the victim's power to alter, or that impose a burden on an employee on one of the prohibited bases a hiring policy that distinguishes on some other ground, such as grooming codes or length of hair, is related more closely to the employer's choice of how to run his business than to equality of employment opportunity.


Plaintiff Renee Rogers, an African-American woman, was employed by defendant American Airlines, Inc. ("American"). Typically, Rogers wore her hair in a "corn row" style; she had to put her hair in a bun while at work because her hair style violated American's grooming policy. Rogers filed a lawsuit in federal district court against American, R.L. Crandall, the President of American, and Robert Zurlo, who was Rogers' manager. Rogers sought $ 10,000 damages, injunctive, and declaratory relief against enforcement of American's grooming policy. Rogers claimed that the grooming policy violated her rights under the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e et seq., and under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1981 (1976), in that it discriminated against her as a woman, and more specifically as an African-American woman. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. Rogers filed a motion for class certification.


Did American's grooming policy that required Rogers to put her hair in a bun while at work violate her rights under the Thirteenth Amendment?




The court granted in part and denied in part defendants' motion to dismiss. The court denied Rogers' motion for class certification. The court ruled, inter alia, that dismissal of Rogers' claim under the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibited "badges of slavery," was warranted because there was np allegation that she did not have the option of quitting her job. The sex discrimination claims were dismissed because a neutral policy that prohibited a hairstyle that was more often adopted by women was not actionable. The racial discrimination claims, except for the enforcement portion, were dismissed because her hairstyle was not an immutable characteristic. Her enforcement claim was allowed to stand because Rogers alleged that some white female employees were permitted to wear ponytails. Crandall and Zurlo were dismissed from the action for want of jurisdiction. Finally, the court ruled, in light of Rogers' assertions that both white and African-American women in the purported class had been permitted to wear the all-braided style, there were no similarly situated employees, and thus class certification on the enforcement claim was not appropriate.

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