Texas Woman Fired For Having Gray Hair

Sandra Rawline, a real estate closer in Houston, filed an age discrimination and retaliation lawsuit last week against her former employer, claiming that her position was terminated because she refused to dye her gray hair.  Rawline, whose hair turned gray in her 20′s, says she has always liked the color.  Now in her early 50′s, she says that she lost her job at Capital Title of Texas in 2009 after her employer told her that with a move to a new location, the office wanted a more “upscale” image.  This meant that Rawline needed to dye her hair, start wearing “younger fancy suits” and more jewelry.

Rawline declined to revamp her look, and was informed days later that she no longer had a job.  She was replaced by a woman who was 10 years younger.  Her work performance did not seem to be an issue, although the company claimed that she was fired, not because of her appearance, but because a customer had “refused to work with her.”  It’s hard to believe that this vague explanation is grounds for a firing, especially given that Rawline had won “outstanding employee” awards in 2004 and 2005, and was promoted to branch manager in 2006.

Her lawyer, Robert Dowdy, explained, “I don’t think anyone should be embarrassed or humiliated for growing older.”  But the issue isn’t simply that Rawline’s employer openly criticized her appearance, because the loss of her job has had serious monetary consequences.  Rawline was unable to find a similar position and has lost almost $20,000 from her annual salary as a result.

Age discrimination cases can be complicated because employers do have some rights when it comes to their employees’ appearances.  They can, for example, “require uniforms, combed hair and tucked-in shirttails.”  But if Rawline was fired because she didn’t look sufficiently youthful, then she does have a legitimate grievance, compounded by the fact that such a request was unlikely to be made of one of her male peers.

Workplace appearance is an issue which often weighs more heavily on women.  If employers can require makeup, then it doesn’t seem like such a stretch to demand a change in hair color.  A British woman recently resigned from her job at Harrods, a London department store, saying that she was repeatedly asked to wear makeup as part of the dress code, despite the fact that she was performing her job well without it.  Men are less likely to be subjected to the same rigorous standards of appearance, especially as they grow older.  Capital Title’s CEO defended the company’s position by pointing out that he had gray hair too, but his comments simply reveal that Rawline may have been a victim of gender as well as age discrimination.

If Rawline was doing her job well, she should have been permitted to continue doing so, without being asked, much less forced, to change her hair color.  Requiring a dress code is one thing.  But demanding that an employee change her hair color is completely inappropriate.

Photo from Dean Wissing via Wikimedia Commons.


Cathy Noftz
Cathy Noftz6 years ago

~Someone is definitly lacking in common sense!~Very insensitive!!~

Czerny A.
Czerny A6 years ago

I hope Ms. Rawline wins her lawsuit. That'll teach employers to mind their own business. As long as a woman is clean, approapriately dressed, and professional, anything more is off-limits.

Diane L.
Diane L6 years ago

Sean Connery, long grey hair and all, is very welcome ANYTIME to mow my yard or clean my floor. Mel Gibson? Well, not unless his mouth is duct-taped, and I don't think he has grey hair yet, but maybe the next altercation with the cops will do the trick, who knows?

Shan D.
Shan D6 years ago

So does this mean that if I want to hire men, I can tell them that they have to wear kilts and have long hair like Mel Gibson in Braveheart or Adrian Paul in Highlander (TV series)? Oh, and grey-haired men look AWFUL with long hair (unless they're Richard Gere or Sean Connery), so they'd all have to make sure they never went grey. Can you imagine the hullabaloo they'd raise!

There is an option nobody has mentioned so far: a wig. I wonder what the boss would have said if she'd shown up in a purple wig - young enough for him?

Thankfully all my long-term jobs have been working for myself, so I never needed to worry about nonsense like suits and makeup. In fact, I don't wear makeup. I'm in my late '40s, and people consistently place my age at 5-10 years younger than my true age. That's what staying out of the sun and not subjecting one's skin to harsh chemicals can do! :o)

But I'm trying not to be a hypocrite and criticize the younger tellers at my bank for wearing blue jeans to work...

Joy Jin
Joy Jin6 years ago

That's stupid. You can tell an employee to wear uniforms, but you can't tell them to "beautify" themselves. That's an insult.

Gale T.
Gale T6 years ago

I wonder what they would do if she shaved it off.?

Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan6 years ago

If she can do her job then there should be no problem.I can see why she was annoyed.

Debra M.
Debra G6 years ago

Agreed, Diane L. The worst thing is to try closing a deal, and the people have questions that the closer cannot answer, or has never seen that incidence occur in her/his career. All two weeks of it.

Lilithe Magdalene

I wonder how many men who worked at the company have gray hair? I think women are the predominant victims of this attitude.

Debra M.
Debra G6 years ago

I hope she kept the memo too! It would be nice if this worked out in her favor, but my suspicion is that she will continue to suffer from the job loss, and he will go his merry way. I am very disappointed in the world economy right now. This jerk only makes the 'right to work' mentality take, one of real power, and manipulation.