Black College Student Employee Sent Home for Wearing Headscarf to Work

A student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who is also an employee at one of the college’s daycare centers said she was sent home because of her hairstyle.

Felicia Layton, a 21-year-old junior at the university, wrote on Facebook on July 25 that she was sent home from her job at the University Child Development Center because she was wearing a headscarf around the back of her hair. She was reportedly told that the hairstyle violated UAB dress code policy.

“So today I was sent home from (my job) due to my hair being like this. Apparently, this is very unprofessional and I will be fired if something isnt done to it (flat iron it) by tomorrow!” Layton wrote. “I wont say much because im not even the type to argue with no one about how things that are basically RACIST but being labeled as something else!”

In her post, Layton also notes that her hair is type 4C, which is fragile hair that is densely packed and can sometimes be difficult to style.

“My students and their parents love me & If its a problem with management that my 4c hair to be flatiron or ‘well groomed’ this is not where my hard work needs to be.”

The student’s Facebook post went viral and garnered over 1,500 reactions and over 1,300 shares on the social media platform. Layton, who studies kinesiology at the university, told WIAT that the center’s policy “disgusted” her.

“I’m disgusted by what happened and it hurts (that) people don’t see it as a deeper issue,” Layton said.

The UAB handbook does not state how an employee should wear their hair.

“Employees are expected to dress appropriately in neat, clean clothing and practice good personal hygiene. Employees must adhere to special dress standards or uniforms that have been established in patient care areas or in any other department or unit at UAB,” the handbook reads.

Layton told the news station that she is returning to work following the incident and is expected to meet with UAB officials. In a statement to WIAT, spokeswoman Holly Gainer said an addendum was made to the center’s dress code policy that prohibits employees from wearing headscarves.

“An addendum was made to the Child Development Center’s dress code on July 10 and was sent to all of the center’s employees via email on the same day. The addendum prohibits employees from wearing wraps, scarves, hats, shower caps or other types of coverings, unless the employee is wearing such for religious purposes,” the statement read. “Personnel matters are confidential and prohibit the university from discussing specific employees.”

Many states have passed laws that ban race-based hair discrimination. Earlier this month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Assembly Bill 07797, “which prohibits race discrimination based on natural hair or hairstyles.”

“For much of our nation’s history, people of color — particularly women — have been marginalized and discriminated against simply because of their hair style or texture,” Cuomo said in a statement. “By signing this bill into law, we are taking an important step toward correcting that history and ensuring people of color are protected from all forms of discrimination.”

In the same month, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act (CROWN Act), USA Today previously reported. The act, also known as Senate Bill 188, prohibits hair discrimination against employees who wear hairstyles like Afros, dreadlocks, or cornrows. The bill was first introduced back in April by Los Angeles Senator Holly J. Mitchell.

“Many Black employees, including your staff ... will tell you, if given the chance, that the struggle to maintain what society has deemed a ‘professional image’ while protecting the health and integrity of their hair remains a defining and paradoxical struggle in their work experience, not usually shared by their non-Black peers,” Mitchell previously said in a press release. “It is 2019. Any law that sanctions a job description that immediately excludes me from a position, not because of my capabilities or experience but because of my hair, is long overdue for reform.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.