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Employer Cites ‘Miscommunication’ After California Man Files Lawsuit Over Request to Trim His Locs: ‘Looking to Learn and Improve’

Jeffrey Thornton, a Black man, is suing an Illinois-based company for discrimination after claiming he was denied a job opportunity because of his natural hairstyle. The suit reportedly may be the first in California to cite the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair law, otherwise known as the CROWN Act.

Jeffrey Thornton (L) and his attorney Adam Kent (R) are suing Illinois-based firm Encore claiming the company’s California-based offices violated the CROWN Act. Photo: Screenshot/KPBS YouTube

Thornton alleges in his lawsuit filed earlier this week that the hiring manager at the San Diego location of Encore Global, an audio and visual company,  told him that he was fully qualified for the position as one of the company’s technical supervisors. However, he would be required to cut his locs to get the job, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

In court documents obtained by the outlet, Thornton accused the production company of violating the CROWN Act, which went into effect in California in January 2020. The law prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle and texture by extending protection for both categories under the FEHA and the California Education Code. A number of other states such as New York, Colorado and Nebraska also have passed the law.

The Florida transplant moved to the city earlier this year after working at the Encore Orlando location in 2016 before he was furloughed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

During his interview with the company last month, Thornton said he was relocating to San Diego with high recommendations from his co-workers at the Florida location. All that was left to discuss was the dress code policy. The man said he wasn’t prepared for what he heard next. 

“I expected that I was to remove my ear gauges, I’d be willing to trim my facial hair, but I wasn’t prepared to be told that I would need to cut my hair to comply with Encore standards,” the man explained. 

The suit claims Encore requested that Thornton cut his locs away from his ears, eyes and shoulders. The man called it a “deal-breaker” after being told he could not even tie it back and away from his face.

“I wouldn’t be able to come to terms with sacrificing my disciplinary journey and what it symbolized,” the man explained at a news conference Tuesday at the Studio Cutz Barber Shop in La Mesa. “I was told that if I was willing to make that sacrifice, a position would be waiting for me, which it still is, I assume.”

Attorney Adam Kent is said to be seeking unspecified general and punitive damages. They also want to prohibit Encore from implementing any dress code that would “violate, or tends to violate the CROWN Act, in particular, or the Fair Employment and Housing Act, in general.”

Encore has since apologized, claiming “miscommunication” between the two parties. In a statement to the publication, Encore stated that “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.” The company expressed “regret” and revealed they have since “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,” they added. 

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