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"Red hair" firing lawsuit against Greenwood Leflore Hospital awaits federal judge's decision

Friday, August 25, 2023, 4:38 pm News Flash Archive

Lawyers representing Greenwood Leflore Hospital, HR Director Margaret Buchanan, and former employee Qunteller Gomiller are now awaiting a decision by Federal District Court Judge Debra M. Brown. Pending before the Judge is the Hospital's motion to dismiss Gomiller's lawsuit.

Ms. Gomiller filed suit against GLH in late April 2023, claiming that Ms. Buchanan fired her because she was wearing artificially colored red hair, which Buchanan claimed violated hospital personnel policy.

Ms. Gomiller claimed that the hospital discriminated again her because of her race, and then retaliated against her when she filed for unemployment.

Both Gomiller and the HR director are Black. Ms. Gomiller is represented by Grenada attorney Carlos Moore. To view our original reporting on this lawsuit, see here: Woman claims Greenwood Leflore Hospital fired her because her hair was too red

By enforcing the hair color requirement against her, Gomiller claims that Buchanan created "a hostile environment for Plaintiff Gomiller because of her race."

The hospital filed the inevitable "Motion to Dismiss" on June 27. It raised several legal arguments which, it believes, provide a legal basis for the court to summarily dismiss the case without a trial at all.

First, GLH points out that "hair color" is not a "protected class" under our civil rights laws:

Hair Color Is Not a Protected Class under either Title VII or 42 U.S.C. Section 1981

Of course, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees due their race, an immutable characteristic. . . . The Fifth Circuit has held, however, that a policy that distinguishes on any other ground such as hair color, "is related more closely to the employer's choice of how to run his business than to equality of employment opportunity."

A policy that makes "distinctions based on an employer's subjective determination of what constitutes an 'extreme' hair color is perfectly acceptable under Title VII."

Since hair color is not a protected class, plaintiff's [Gomiller's] claims under Title VII and Section 1981 must be dismissed.

Federal law required Gomiller to file a complaint with the EEOC prior to filing her lawsuit. The hospital claims that, since Gomiller's EEOC complaint did not include any reference to the "retaliation" claim she is making against GLH, it too must be dismissed.

GLH argues to the court that Gomiller:

did not claim retaliation in the box where she was to identify the basis of her claim [on her EEOC complaint form], and she did not put any claim of retaliation in the narrative of her EEOC charge. Plaintiff's retaliation claim must, therefore, be dismissed.

To see Gomiller's EEOC complaint form, view here: Gomiller EEOC Complaint Form

In addition, GLH argues that Gomiller would need to show that the hospital retaliated against her because she was engaged in a "statutorily protected activity," and that she provided no description of any such legally protected activity in her lawsuit.

GLH is represented by Susan Fahey Desmond of the JACKSON LEWIS P.C. law firm. GLH's Motion to Dismiss may be seen here: GLH Motion to Dismiss

Gomiller's attorney Carlos Moore filed a reply to the hospital's motion to dismiss. It may be seen here: Gomiller Reply to Motion to Dismiss

Gomiller begins her reply:

Defendants' [GLH's] motion to dismiss should be denied as Plaintiff [Gomiller] endured discrimination during her employment with Defendants. Defendants not only discriminated against Ms. Gomiller, but also created a hostile working environment for Plaintiff because she engaged in a protected activity. Therefore, Defendants should compensate Plaintiff for injuries that were caused by Defendants' egregious violation of Plaintiff's civil rights.

Gomiller claims she was discriminated against because:

During Plaintiff's employment with Defendants, (1) several employees were permitted to wear extreme hair colors with no disciplinary action taken and (2) Defendant Buchanan used tactics to intimidate Plaintiff. . . . Specifically, Defendants lack the ability to claim that Plaintiff's hair color is a matter of 'how to run its business' because Plaintiff's Charge of Discrimination directly references instances where her co-workers were permitted to wear shades of blonde, orange, grey, and purple. As such, Defendants' motion to dismiss should be denied.

As to the claim of retaliatory discharge not being reported to the EEOC, Gomiller claims to the contrary, that sufficient notice was given in her EEOC complaint, so that cause of action should not be stricken:

Plaintiff specifically s[t]ated within her 'the particulars are' section that she was terminated in retaliation for her hair color, despite other employees' having worn extreme hair colors. Plaintiff further explained that her supervisor, Buchanan, allowed her to wear her red hair color for three months before terminating her employment.

The problem is, that in her complaint, the alleged retaliation took place after she was dismissed from her job, and only after she filed for unemployment compensation, but none of that is mentioned in her EEOC complaint.

Thus, the time frame and grounds for Gomiller's claim of "retaliation" appear to shift back and forth from being retaliated against for wearing her hair red, to being retaliated against because she filed an unemployment claim after she had been terminated.

Gomiller concludes her reply thus:

Defendants' motion to dismiss should be denied as Plaintiff endured discrimination during her employment with GLH, and was retaliatory [sic] discharged as a result. Further, Plaintiff has fully satisfied the pre-suit requirements under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to exhaust administrative remedies. Defendant not only discriminated against Plaintiff, but also created a hostile working environment for Plaintiff because she engaged in the protected activity of voicing and filing a complaint.

GLH provided a rebuttal in support of its motion to dismiss, in which it addressed Gomiller's arguments against dismissal of her complaint.

First, GLH points out:

Reading the charge plaintiff filed with the EEOC shows that while she did allege in her charge that others were allowed to wear extreme hair color, she claims that the comparators are African American. It states, "There are several Black employees who have been allowed to wear extreme hair colors . . . ."

Just as her Complaint does not allege disparate treatment, the [EEOC] charge also does not assert disparate treatment based on race as it does not identify any comparator outside of her protected class who were treated more favorably. Her charge simply encompassed a race discrimination claim based on her hair color which is clearly not a protected class.

In other words, GLH is claiming that Gomiller would need to point to white employees who were allowed to wear unnatural hair colors when she was not, in order to prove discrimination based on race.

GLH also reiterated its claim that Gomiller did not present her retaliation claim to the EEOC, and is therefore barred from pursuing it now in court.

GLH also points out in its rebuttal a possible explanation why Gomiller was allowed to wear her extreme red hair for three months:

. . . plaintiff incorrectly states that [HR Director] Buchanan was her supervisor. Buchanan, as the Human Resource Director, would have supervisory authority over employees within her department. Buchanan would not, however, have supervisory over plaintiff since, as a medical lab assistant, she would not be a part of Buchanan's department. It is also irrelevant that her supervisor apparently did not enforce hospital policy in allowing plaintiff to report to work for allegedly three months with her extreme hair color. While her supervisor may have overlooked hospital policy, Buchanan was not required to follow suit.

GLH also opposes Gomiller's brief request to amend her complaint:

. . . plaintiff clearly argues that her complaint sufficed to state a claim. Thus, a request to amend at the end of an opposition brief that does not articulate how any [new] allegations would cure the deficiencies should be denied.

GLH's rebuttal in support of its motion to dismiss may be seen here: GLH Rebuttal Memo

Nobody can predict when Judge Brown will render her decision on whether to dismiss Gomiller's lawsuit, or allow it to continue further.

Meanwhile, a jury trial is set for August 5, 2024 in Greenville.

To review our reporting on GLH and its financial woes, please see here: Index of Greenwood Leflore Hospital news articles

John Pittman Hey
The Taxpayers Channel

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