Department or Program


Second Department or Program

Gender and Sexuality Studies


Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bans employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, and national origin. Employees use this to challenge workplace grooming policies regulating their appearance while on duty. To determine what aspects of appearance fall under protected identity characteristics, courts reference “immutability”, defined as attributes that cannot be changed or are essential to an identity group. This thesis centers around cases of black women who faced employment discrimination because of hairstyling, in which courts treat hair as unprotected because of its “mutability.” In doing so, courts ignore the gendered and racialized ideals surrounding “professional” hair and its exclusion of socioculturally black hairstyles. Through analysis of anti-discrimination law, the concept of identity, and the historical importance of black women’s hair, I form a three-part argument: 1) the purpose of anti-discrimination law ought be to combat discrimination on the basis of oppressive hierarchical evaluations; 2) the “immutability” understanding of identity, and the notion of fault it relies on, excludes agential enactments of identity, leaving marginalized populations vulnerable to implicitly biased discriminatory action; and, 3) insofar as the “immutability” criterion for identity prevents anti-discrimination law from fully combatting discrimination, it ought be removed. Instead, I posit a two-part approach to identity emphasizing the importance of both how individuals are passively identified (i.e. identification absent agent action) and actively identified (i.e. identification based on agent action), the validity of which I demonstrate through the ways black women have been historically perceived and identified by others.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

Stark, Susan

Date of Graduation


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Components of Thesis

1 pdf file

Open Access

Available to all.