Dillard’s Disses Ethnic Hair

Dillard’s says ‘ethnic’ hair harder to clean in response to discrimination suit

 Vaughan Thomas says a Dillard’s hairstylist told her it was the company’s practice to charge black clients more than white clients.

 Almost three years after Vaughan Thomas says she paid an inflated price at a Montgomery, Ala., hair salon simply for being black, lawyers for Dillard’s beauty salons went to court Tuesday to defend the department store from allegations of what Thomas and others call “race-based pricing.”

Thomas is one of eight black women suing the department store for racial discrimination after she allegedly was told that Dillard’s beauty salons charge black customers more than whites because of the “kinky” nature of “ethnic” hair.

“Hair is hair regardless of what color you are, and the prices should be the same for everybody,” Thomas told Courttv.com. “This is a practice that’s still being done in the 21st century, and it should be stopped.”

While lawyers for Dillard’s deny that the retailer practices “race-based pricing,” they claim that scientific evidence supports the theory that “ethnic” hair requires more effort to treat — and therefore should be subject to higher pricing.

A defense brief submitted in Alabama federal court cites numerous supposed characteristics of black hair that make treating it more “time consuming and technically demanding than fulfilling the minimal (or non-existent) conditioning needs” of the typical white customer.

“The rendering of professional hair care is a personal service typically tailored to the specific needs and preferences of the individual,” Dillard’s scientific expert, Mort Westman, said in a deposition. “Numerous factors exist and must be considered during the process of cleansing, conditioning and styling, rendering the resultant treatment somewhat unique.”

The brief, which is based in large part on Westman’s declaration and a study published in 2003 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, highlights the “highly brittle, tightly curled” texture of ethnic hair as a factor that prolongs the cleansing portion of the treatment.

The brief also refers to “lack of resiliency” and the frequent use of “intricate coiffures” and extensions as other factors that affect the complexity of drying and styling the hair of black customers.

“These factors would typically indicate that the pricing for the shampooing, conditioning and styling of the African-American client would normally be higher than that of the Caucasian client,” Westman claims.

The cosmetic chemist is expected to appear in Birmingham federal court this week to testify on Dillard’s behalf in a hearing on whether the individual lawsuits should be consolidated under one class-action lawsuit.

The lead attorney for Dillard’s, Brian Bostick, said he expected to finish his case by Thursday. He declined to comment further, citing orders from Dillard’s. The company’s in-house general counsel did not return calls for comment.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs presented their case two weeks ago in support of their argument that Dillard’s alleged pricing scheme was part of a systematic effort to charge customers across the country solely on the basis of race.

One of the advantages to class-certification would be the plaintiffs’ ability to seek an injunction against Dillard’s from continuing its race-based pricing, said lead attorney, Patrick Cooper.

“It’s amazing to me that a Fortune 500 company would use this kind of pseudo-science in court to prove that it takes longer to wash African-American hair,” Cooper said.

“The day they can show me that every black woman in the country has the same hair is the day I’ll ask the judge to dismiss the case immediately,” he said.

Got a comment or opinion? SOUND OFF NOW! Leave your comment below.

6 Responses to “Dillard’s Disses Ethnic Hair”
  1. celeste says:

    I don’t find this racist at all. Even natural hair salons that specializes in black hair costs more than treating and styling hair that is relax. There are white salons that charge more if your hair is very long or “too long”. Dillard’s was right when they said that it takes more time to style black’s people hair and that is true. Also, we have to be honest that a lot of black women don’t keep their hair clean. To show up at a salon with very dirty hair that hasn’t been washed in weeks is insulting to the stylist. If your hair is nappy and very dirty, it do take more washes to clean it. I know Dillard’s had racist lawsuits agaisnt them in the past but this one I don’t find racist. By the way, the owner of any salon can charge more for whatever reason they enforce. I know for a fact black salons do it.

  2. Nikki says:

    Well, then they should charge more or less based on the individual’s hair. Some white folk have coarse hair or don’t wash their hair much (and it’s more serious for straight-haired people when they don’t do this) or have curly hair. Some black folk have a relaxer and their hair is already straight. If the person wants an intricate hair style, that’s fine, charge more for that. And if most of the people who want this are black, that’s fine, too. But just to have a flat rate for “black hair”, as though all our hair is the same texture, length, level of cleanliness, or styled the same, is ridiculous.

  3. nappyme says:

    You just reminded me that off and on I have wondered what the disposition of this case is. Did Dillard’s lose. I’ve looked for follow up information on this off and on to no avail. I wish I could find somthing cause inquiring minds want to know!

  4. BrittanyanJ says:

    I would like to know what happened in the case as well. As far as I know, it hasn’t been reported on much in Alabama metro newspapers. Maybe there is something about it in the Montgomery Advertiser archives.

  5. Syrel says:

    The plaintiffs were denied class status by an Alabama judge, and apparently in 2008 the parties agreed t dismiss the case.

    Here’s a web link:

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