An arbitrator awarded an ex-Hooters waitress $250,000 in lost wages and attorney compensation after she was allegedly fired for having blond highlights in her hair. Hooters denies the allegations and says many African-American women have worked at the chain of restaurants while having various shades of hair, including blonde, without any difficulty whatsoever.
Farryn Johnson, who is African-American, was fired from her Baltimore restaurant job in August, 2013, because “Hooters prohibits African-American Hooters Girls from wearing blond highlights in their hair because it is not a natural color for African-Americans,” as the lawsuit claimed. Johnson claimed that racial discrimination was the root cause of the discriminatory practice that allowed white women to bleach their hair blonde, but not black women.
Johnson had worked at the restaurant for a little over a year when a manager approached her about her hair’s highlights, she said.
“The manager at the time literally said, ‘You can’t have blond because black people don’t have blond hair.’ I was shocked.”
Johnson opted to keep her blonde locks, but soon noticed that her hours were being slashed and shifts cut, and she received several written warnings about her hair, until she was ultimately fired from the Baltimore location in August, 2013.
Johnson sued for discrimination, and last Thursday and arbitrator awarded her $250,000 for lost wages and attorney fees. Arbitrator Edmund D. Cooke, Jr. stated that Hooters violated state and federal civil rights laws, and that the hair policy “was implemented in a discriminatory manner adversely affecting African-American women.” Women of other ethnicities were allowed to dye and highlight their hair. Of interest, it is not scientifically factual that black women never have blond hair. It happens in people of Aboriginal descent, as well as African descent occasionally.
Hooters, which is a restaurant known for having attractive waitresses who are scantily dressed, and many with large breasts, does not seem to be an establishment that would be concerned with women looking “natural.” Most women who are hired conform to the media’s idea of beauty — youthful, slim figures, but nothing that would require a woman to look “natural.”
Hooters denies the suggestion of racial discrimination in a detailed response on their website to the arbitrator’s decision and says no woman of any ethnicity has been told how to wear or color her hair.
Ericka Whitaker, who is a senior branch manager of Hooters of America, said in the statement that as an African-American female, she has never been told that highlights were not acceptable.
“As a former Hooters Girl who happens to be African-American, I, like countless other African-American Hooters Girls today, regularly wore my hair in various shades of blond, or any other color consistent with our ‘girl next door’ image.”
Hooters also says that only about $11,000 would be compensatory to Johnson’s lost wages, with the rest going to legal fees.
Andrew Levy, Johnson’s attorney, said that his client was very happy with the arbitrator’s decision, and is pleased that perhaps this will not happen again to another woman.
“I hope that Hooters sees this as an opportunity to make improvements in the way they train their managers and the way they deal with their employees.”
[Photo courtesy of CBS Baltimore]