BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The popular restaurant chain Hooters is accused of racial discrimination by a former employee in Baltimore. And it all centers around her hair.
Derek Valcourt has more on her complaint.
Specifically, the complaint alleges white waitresses are allowed to have highlights in their hair, but black waitresses are not.
Farryn Johnson's blonde highlights are now at the center of a complaint filed with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights.
"My other co-workers, they all had different colors in their hair, like red and blonde highlights. I didn't think it would be an issue," she said.
Johnson, 25, was fired from her job as a waitress at Baltimore's Harborplace Hooters in August after she was told by managers her hair color violated employee image standards.
"They gave me write-ups and they told me I need to take the color out of my hair. And they said I couldn't have blonde in my hair because I'm black. They specifically said, 'Black women don't have blonde in their hair, so you need to take it out,'" said Johnson.
Jessica Weber is Johnson's attorney.
"What's wrong is that both federal and state law clearly say employers can't impose two separate and distinct rules governing employee standards--one for African-American employees and one for everyone else. And that's clearly what Hooters did here," said attorney Weber, Brown Goldstein Levy.
"Why don't we just not define hairstyles for anyone?" said Delegate Mary Washington, (D) Baltimore.
Delegate Washington agrees. Employers need to be able to define personal appearance and grooming standards, but she's already drafting legislation that would prevent employers from requiring or prohibiting specific hairstyles.
She says Farryn Johnson is just one of many examples.
"Also, there's some women and men who are told to dye their hair, that if they are gray, somehow they are not projecting a youthful image. So I think really further clarifying hair and restricting employers from doing that, will help all kinds of people," said Washington.
Hooters of America declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. The case is now in the hands of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, whose investigation could take months.
Washington expects her bill to be pre-filed for the next legislative session in Annapolis.
Editor's Note: On 10/31/13, Hooters responded to the controversy.
"When you're representing an iconic brand there are standards to follow. Hooters Girls are required to be camera-ready at all times to promote the glamorous, wholesome look for which Hooters is known. Hooters adamantly denies that it has different policies and standards for hair based on race. As a global brand, Hooters embraces our culturally diverse employee base and our standards are applied impartially." Rebecca Sinclair, Chief Human Resources Officer, Hooters of America
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