Hooters restaurants’ “image policy” is discriminatory against black waitresses, an arbitrator has ruled in awarding $250,000 to a black former server at Harborplace who alleged she was fired for having blond highlights in her hair.
The award for Farryn Johnson includes back pay, compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees and costs, according to one of her lawyers.
Johnson was ordered to remove the highlights from her brown hair in June 2013 by her manager, who allegedly told her “black people don’t have blond hair.” Two months later, on Aug. 12, Johnson was sent home and prevented from working more shifts unless she changed her hair color, according to the arbitrator’s ruling. Management notes about her suspension state that Johnson “was coached that her current hair was not meeting the image standards,” according to the arbitrator’s ruling.
Johnson was fired Aug. 23, 2013 a year after becoming a “Hooters Girl” at the restaurant’s Inner Harbor location. She filed a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights two months later, as well as with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The company’s “image policy,” which Johnson received as part of her training materials, recommends Hooters Girls “wear the right hair color for their skin tone.” But arbitrator Edmund D. Cooke Jr., in a ruling issued Wednesday, said the policy is discriminatory and subjective, notingthat a company-produced magazine includes white Hooters Girls with two different colors in their hair and that managers are told servers’ hair cannot be “bizarre” or “outrageous.”
“The evidence is undisputed that Hooters managers were provided no objective means for assessing whether the colors in a Hooters Girl’s hair complied with the policy,” he wrote.
Several other non-black servers who worked with Johnson had different or unnatural hair colors but were not disciplined, Cooke added, and only black waitresses were “counseled” about their hair.
The “real reason” Johnson was fired, Cooke concluded, was because she “failed to comply with a policy that relied on racial features for its implementation, and then was implemented in a discriminatory manner adversely affecting African-American women.”
Johnson, in a statement, said she was “extremely happy” with Cooke’s decision and said she hoped it would prompt Hooters to change its policies.
“Black people can have blond hair and the law agrees,” she said.
Jessica P. Weber, Johnson’s lead lawyer, said in a statement that Cooke’s ruling “confirmed what we believed all along,” that Hooters holds black servers to a “different and more restrictive” set of standards.
“We hope this decision will motivate Hooters to revise its image policies and manager training program,” said Weber, an associate with Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP in Baltimore. “Hopefully, no Hooters server will ever again be ordered to change her appearance because of her race.”
Representatives from Atlanta-based Hooters of America LLC did not respond to a request for comment.
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