Black School Employee Files Hair Discrimination Suit in Charlotte

A Black school employee in North Carolina says that her white colleagues humiliated her regarding her natural hair.

Kimberly Tigner, who works as a career development liaison for the Career and Technical Education Department at Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools, told The Charlotte Observer that she is suing the district for discrimination.

The school district asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit because Tigner could not specify “official policy, practice or custom of institutional discrimination.” The employee filed against the dismissal bid on July 31.

In the complaint obtained by the publication, Tigner states she experienced “racially-motivated criticism and bullying” by one of her supervisors. The supervisor circulated a petition with signatures of other white colleagues indicating that her natural hair was “unprofessional” and inappropriate for the workplace,” according to the complaint, which was amended in May. The petition also stated that the supervisor who circulated the petition said that she has ‘black friends, so it was okay for her to say what she did.”

The lawsuit was filed with the Western District of North Carolina last year.

“The harassment Ms. Tigner faced was brutal and relentless, including incidents ranging from mildly insulting to dehumanizing,” the complaint read.

The behavior of her colleagues reportedly extended to her 17-year-old son. Tigner said her supervisor felt threatened by his presence “because he was a black male” when he stopped by the office in 2016. The supervisor allegedly also used the district’s student records directory to perform a background check and see if her son had a criminal record. The lawsuit further alleges that the employee in charge of the office would not allow Tigner’s son on CMS property, causing him to miss school for two weeks, until Tigner could prove he had no criminal record.

The mother said she was reprimanded for complaining about the alleged harassment and tried to find a job elsewhere, but was denied other opportunities within the district. The bullying also caused her to develop severe anxiety.

“[CMS] intentionally deprived Ms. Tigner, an African American woman, of the same Constitutional rights enjoyed by white citizens as to the creation, performance, enjoyment, and all benefits and privileges of her contractual relationship with [CMS],” the lawsuit states, according to The Charlotte Observer.

This is not the first time this year that a Black person has been involved in a hair discrimination case that has made news. A teenager from Texas who was refused a summer job earlier this year at Six Flags Over Texas because of his dreadlocks is now working on his modeling career.

Kerion Washington, 17, was denied a summer job at a theme park in Arlington, Texas because his dreadlocks were considered an “extreme hairstyle,” KXAS-TV previously reported. His mother, Karis Washington, posted a picture to Facebook of her son in front of the theme park, pointing out that the human resources supervisor compared his hairstyle to tattoos and piercings.

The teen’s story went viral and Corrie Caster, the head of development for IMG Los Angeles and a scout for IMG Models Worldwide, reached out to him about a modeling contract, The Dallas Morning News previously reported.

“I scout the world looking for talent and stories,” Caster told the publication. “I didn’t know his story then, but he had a lot of the physical features we look for in our models.”

In some states, it is illegal to discriminate against someone for their natural hair. Earlier this month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Assembly Bill 07797, which ended race-based hair discrimination.

“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 previous 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 bill protects employees or students who wear hairstyles like braids, dreadlocks or Afros from being penalized. The bill was first introduced back in April by Los Angeles Senator Holly J. Mitchell, who said signing the bill would “help dispel myths and educate those who need it about the unique qualities of Black hair and texture and the Black hair experience.”

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.