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Black 'Hooters Girl' fired over not 'natural' blond hair

Restaurant and Catering IndustrySocial IssuesDiscriminationTelevision IndustryHarborplace

Of all the potential indignities involved in being a “Hooters Girl,” who’d have guessed you could get canned for having the wrong hair color?

That’s what Farryn Johnson, a 25-year-old waitress, has alleged in a racial discrimination complaint against Hooters Harborplace in Baltimore, and its corporate parent, Hooters of America. Johnson was fired from the Baltimore venue, she said, because she has blond highlights.

“They specifically said black women don’t have blond in their hair so you need to take it out,” Johnson told Baltimore TV station WJZ.

I guess Hooters has never heard of Beyonce.

Or Mary J. Blige.

Or Nicki Minaj.

On Monday, Johnson filed a complaint with the Maryland Civil Rights Commission, a copy of which was posted by the Baltimore Sun.

Her attorney, Jessica Weber, said the complaint is a required precursor to a potential discrimination lawsuit. The commission has six months to investigate, and regardless of what it finds, said Weber, Johnson can sue Hooters after that.

“She is interested in being made whole,” Weber said Thursday. “She lost her job and suffered discrimination and wants Hooters to change its policy.”

According to the complaint, Johnson had worked at Hooters for about 10 months when she arrived for her shift on June 30 with blond highlights in her dark hair.

Under penalty of perjury, she decribed what happened next:

“Manager Dave Dobrinski told Ms. Johnson that she could not have blond highlights because it did not look ‘natural’ on an African-American woman. That same day, General Manager Tim Ashby issued Ms. Johnson an Employee Counseling Report … as a first written warning related to her hair color.”

She was given six weeks to change her hair color, she said, but could not afford to.

When she showed up on Aug. 12, the complaint said, she was given a second warning and sent home. When she tried to work on Aug. 20, she was sent home again.

She tried to work again three days later.

“When Ms. Johnson attempted to return to work on Friday, Aug. 23, with blond highlights still in her hair,” the complaint said, “Mr. Ashby issued her an Employee Counseling Report terminating her employment. According to the report, Hooters terminated Ms. Johnson because of her ‘improper image.’ "

(Weber said she has copies of the Hooter reports, but declined to share them with The Times. Hooters did not respond to a request for comment on this case in particular or about its appearance policy in general.)

In her complaint, Johnson noted that her non-black co-workers had all sorts of unnatural things going on with their hair:

An Asian-American waitress had dyed red hair. A white waitress with dark brown hair dyed the tips of her hair red and blond. Another white co-worker with brown hair dyed her hair black with blond streaks. None were disciplined by management, Johnson said.

In fact, she alleged, the only other employees who were disciplined because of their hair styles were African American, including one who was told to remove her blond highlights and stop wearing her hair curly.

“I believe Hooters only deemed my hair color ‘improper’ because I am an African American woman,” Johnson alleged in her complaint. “I was discharged because Hooters imposes different and more restrictive beauty standards on African American women than it does on women of other races.”

That a business establishment would impose any beauty standards on employees at all is appalling, but an ingrained fact of life. Looks matter, regardless of your profession. 

But if the blatantly racist behavior that Johnson has alleged is true, Hooters needs to acknowledge it, educate its managers about it and atone for it.

Still, it's so odd that a place like Hooters would fire a woman for doing something "unnatural" with her looks. Unnatural looks seem to be among the chain's hiring criteria, if you catch my drift.

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Twitter: @robinabcarian

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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