Judge Martin starts her dissent this way:
Chastity Jones, a black woman, applied for a position at Catastrophe Management Solutions (“CMS”). She got the job. But after she was hired, the human resources manager—who is white—told Ms. Jones the company had to rescind its job offer because she wore her hair in dreadlocks. The manager told Ms. Jones the problem with dreadlocks is “they tend to get messy,” but at the same time recognized that Ms. Jones’s own dreadlocks were not messy. Even so, CMS took away Ms. Jones’s job offer because her hair violated the company’s blanket ban on dreadlocks.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed suit against CMS on behalf of Ms. Jones. The complaint alleged that CMS discriminated against Ms. Jones on the basis of her race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. The complaint alleged that dreadlocks are black hair in its natural, unmanipulated state, and that the natural texture of black hair carries with it a deeply entrenched racial stereotype that sees black people as “unprofessional,” “extreme,” and “not neat.” The complaint also alleged that CMS’s stated reason for banning dreadlocks—“they tend to get messy”—did not apply to Ms. Jones, as the human resources manager acknowledged Ms. Jones’s hair was not messy. Thus, the complaint indicated that CMS’s only reason for refusing to hire Ms. Jones was the false racial stereotype.
Even with these clear allegations of racial discrimination, the District Court dismissed this action based on the pleadings alone. See Equal Emp’t Opportunity Comm’n v. Catastrophe Mgmt. Sols., 852 F.3d 1018, 1021 (11th Cir. 2016). This means, of course, that the courthouse doors were closed to Ms. Jones without either she or CMS having any opportunity for factual exploration or development of her claims. On this limited record, then, a panel of this Court affirmed. And now, despite the startling nature of the precedent created by the panel opinion, a majority of this Court has voted not to rehear the case en banc. I dissent from that decision.
The panel held that the complaint failed to state a claim because Title VII prohibits only discrimination based on “immutable traits” and dreadlocks are not “an immutable characteristic of black persons.” Id. at 1021. The panel said our decision in Willingham v. Macon Tel. Publ’g Co., 507 F.2d 1084 (5th Cir. 1975) (en banc),1 dictates this conclusion. See Catastrophe Mgmt., 852 F.3d at 1028–30. I cannot agree. By resting its decision on Willingham’s mutable/immutable distinction, the panel revives—in fact, expands—a doctrine the Supreme Court invalidated more than twenty-five years ago in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 109 S. Ct. 1775 (1989). Even if Willingham’s immutable-trait requirement survived Price Waterhouse, the allegations the EEOC made here on behalf of Ms. Jones are sufficient to satisfy that requirement and state a Title VII disparate treatment claim.