January 3, 2014 10:16 pm

Edmonton woman says hair colour cost her a job


EDMONTON – An Edmonton woman is speaking out, saying she was discriminated against during a job interview because of the colour of her hair.

Shenese Langlois, an architectural technology student at NAIT, has purple hair. Over her winter break from school she applied for a job as a ‘walker’ with UPS, to help deliver packages over the holidays.

But when she went for an interview with the company, she quickly learned she would not be getting the job.

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“She [the woman interviewing her] left the room. She came back and she said ‘to work here you have to have natural hair colour,'” Langlois explained Friday.

“I was just so shocked that she would even say that to me, because I feel like I’m presentable.”

Langlois says she was so shocked by the statement she went home and researched UPS’ policies.

“I can’t find this policy. I can’t find it anywhere. The only thing in their appearance policy is that I must be well groomed and safe and clean. I feel like I meet those standards.”

In an emailed statement to Global News, Dan Shea, vice-president of Human Resources with UPS Canada says:

Our Uniform and Personal Appearance Guidelines do require all uniformed customer facing employees to have hair “of a natural colour” in the event a person chooses to accept a uniformed job at UPS. The personal appearance aspects of our Guidelines are reasonable and justified by the need to maintain the global corporate brand and professional image that the company has built over many generations. There are guidelines for non-uniformed, non-customer facing employees as well where, for example, natural hair colour is not a requirement.

UPS will, of course, provide exemptions to its Guidelines for bona fide religious and medical requirements.

Langlois says, though, she feels like she was discriminated against. She believes the company should have judged her on her qualifications, not the colour of her hair.

“I don’t feel like I present poorly. I don’t think I would scare anybody with my hair, either,” she explained. “I feel like my skills should outshine my hair.”

A lawyer with the Alberta Human Rights Commission says hair colour alone is not protected under the Alberta Human Rights Act, but the commission could investigate based on other biases.

“Manner of appearance, such as clothing, facial hair, earrings, all of those things can become part of a larger question of systemic bias, systemic prejudice that permeates in our society,” Arman Chak explained.

“If they come in with a certain colour of hair, we would be saying ‘where is the policy for that?’ And if none exists, then you have to ask the secondary question: ‘well, why are you using it as a factor when it may not have anything to do with the position whatsoever?'”

When it comes to potential employees, businessman Mark Pavelich says he hires based solely on drive and passion for the job, not on appearance.

“The bottom line is, if the person can do the job, regardless if their hair is purple or yellow or pink, there’s no relevancy to that whatsoever… As long as they can close deals, that’s all I care about,” said Pavelich, who owns two Edmonton-based businesses — Maximum Fighting Championship, a mixed marital arts organization, and Mark Consulting, a marketing and consulting firm.

“We never pass judgement on people that have come to work for us — whether it be fighter-wise or whether it be people that work in the corporate part of our industry.”

An Edmonton-based executive recruitment group says while most companies are looking for employees who will achieve good results, appearance can play a role in the hiring process.

“Hair colour, hair cut, or other appearance issues, they’re all part of the package as you go and seek a professional career,” said Christopher Goodrick with Lock Search Group.

“For instance, if the profession that this person has applied to is facing the public and that public is the type of a client that particularly won’t appreciate something that is that outstanding, then it might need to be toned down.”

Still, Langlois says she was taught not to judge others, adding her hair colour hasn’t been an issue for her in the past.

“I honestly don’t see why it wouldn’t be [professional]. Because I see many people with different coloured hair and I don’t judge them on it.”

With files from Julie Matthews, Global News.

© 2014 Shaw Media

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