SAN DIEGO — A legal claim was announced Tuesday alleging a Black applicant for a national audio/visual company seeking to fill positions in San Diego was racially discriminated against by the employer for his hairstyle, in what is believed to be the first case to cite a recent state law banning such discrimination.
Jeffrey Thornton says that while applying for a technical supervisor position for one of Encore Global’s San Diego locations, he was told by a hiring manager that while he was fully qualified for the job, he would have to cut his dreadlocks in order to get the position.
Thornton alleges this violates the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act, a state law prohibiting employers from withholding employment based on discrimination against the applicant’s hairstyle.
Signed into law in 2019, the CROWN Act defines racial discrimination to include discrimination for “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”
An Encore Global spokesperson sent FOX 5 a statement on Wednesday saying the company regrets “any miscommunication with Mr. Thornton regarding our standard grooming policies,” which “he appears to fully meet.” The spokesperson said the company offered Thornton a job though it was unclear when.
Thornton says he previously worked for Encore Global in Florida, but was furloughed along with several other employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In October of this year, he says he received an email inviting him and other furloughed employees to contact the company about securing positions with them again, leading Thornton to interview for a position in San Diego.
He alleges he was told by a hiring manager that despite his qualifications, his dreadlocks precluded him from consideration. Thornton says that while he worked for the company in Florida, dreadlocks were not considered an issue for him or other employees.
“Professionalism isn’t about fitting into Eurocentric norms. Professionalism is about competency,” Thornton’s attorney, Adam Kent, said at a news conference Tuesday announcing the claim. “We all expect to be judged based on our abilities and on our character, but Mr. Thornton is being told in this case that it’s different for him.”
Kent said his client is asking “to be made whole for the damages he has suffered,” while also asking that Encore Global “is never again able to enforce grooming policies that disparately impact Black Americans.”
Full statement from Encore Global:
“Maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace where every individual has a full sense of belonging and feels empowered to reach their potential are core values of our business. These values are key to fueling innovation, collaboration and driving better outcomes for our team members, customers and the communities we serve.
We regret any miscommunication with Mr. Thornton regarding our standard grooming policies – which he appears to fully meet and we have made him an offer of employment. We are continuously looking to learn and improve, and we are reviewing our grooming policies to avoid potential miscommunications in the future.”Encore Global spokesperson