A black woman says she was fired from British Petroleum (BP) for wearing a dashiki and for wearing her hair in braids.
Melphine Evans was a vice president and CFO for two BP ofshoots. Now, she is suing those companies and nine individuals, saying she was told that how she dressed was only appropriate “during ‘culture day,’ black history month or special diversity events/days,” and that it was making her colleagues “uncomfortable.”
The dashiki, a piece of traditional West African clothing, became a political and cultural symbol for African Americans during the 1960s, a marker of solidarity with the struggle for economic and racial equality. But that isn’t necessarily why Evans was wearing it; dashikis simply resemble long, patterned shirts.
Still, in her 24-page lawsuit filed with the Orange County Superior Court this week, Evans says that her supervisor told her, “‘You intimidate and make your colleagues uncomfortable by wearing ethnic clothing and ethnic hairstyles,” according to Courthouse News. Her so-called “ethnic hairstyles” were braids or twists, common ways for an African American woman to wear her hair.
“If you are going to wear ethnic clothing, you should alert people in advance that you will be wearing something ethnic,” Evans says she was told.
Guidance by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission specifies that an employee cannot be fired on the basis of race,”or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features).”
BP spokesperson Scott Dean reached out to Thinkprogress to give his company’s position on the case, saying, “BP treats all employees fairly. BP disagrees with the claims and will vigorously defend the suit.” He also pointed to a line in the suit that says the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) listed Evans’s case as “Investigated and Dismissed – Withdrawn.” DFEH said it was “unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes a violation of the statute.”