A teenager says her supervisor at Chick-fil-A sent her home for having an “unnatural” hair color: Blond.
“I was very embarrassed,” Autumn Williams, 16, of Concord, North Carolina, tells TODAY.com.
According to Williams and her mother Nina Burch, the teen wears her “brownish-blond” or “dark blond” hair in box braids, which Autumn had when she attended her company’s orientation session approximately two months ago. During that session, she says, the only guidance she heard about hair was that it had to be pulled back from her face, which she said is reasonable.
During her July 13 shift at the front counter, Williams said a manager asked to speak with her in private.
“She said, ‘Our supervisor drove by yesterday and noticed blond in your hair and since blond is an unnatural color to you, we have to ask you to take the blond out of your hair and then come back when there’s none,'” says Williams.
“She said, ‘We understand that’s a long process for you so take your time and you can email me when you’re ready to come back,'” adds Williams.
The teen says she panicked.
“It was very stressful — it made me feel like there was something wrong with me and my appearance.”
Williams called her mom Nina Burch to ask for a ride home; when Burch arrived, she says she asked for an explanation from the manager, who shared the supervisor’s phone number. According to Burch, the supervisor refused to elaborate on the call. Autumn says when she got on the phone, he said, “We already had a conversation about your hair. If there’s any confusion, you can refer to the handbook.”
Burch sent TODAY.com a screenshot of what she says is the company’s grooming policy. It states:
“Hairstyles must be neat and professional in appearance. Unnatural hair colors or eccentric styles (e.g., Mohawks, shaven designs, etc.) are not permitted.”
Chick-fil-A declined to comment on the accuracy of the screenshot.
Autumn has since quit her job.
Burch tells TODAY.com that her interpretation of “unnatural” was a hue like hot pink or blue, which doesn’t grow naturally.
The mom says that Autumn has never dyed her hair; the color of her braids best matches her natural color.
Williams says that on August 1, the store owner invited her back to work, should she choose to return. “He was apologetic, saying this shouldn’t have happened,” she says.
According to Chick-fil-A, Autumn was not terminated from her job; after the store owner determined that the policy was misinterpreted inside the restaurant, he welcomed Autumn back to the restaurant. The owner interpreted the incident as an educational moment for his team, the company says.
Burch says they have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) “to see if there’s a route we should pursue legally.”
Autumn says she isn’t comfortable returning to work, explaining, “No one should tell you what you are based on your appearance.”
This article was originally published on TODAY.com