Farryn Johnson, 25, claims her supervisors said her blond highlights violated the appearance policy for "Hooters Girls," according to her attorney, Jessica P. Weber of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP.
When Johnson pointed out that other waitresses had obviously dyed hair -- an Asian-American woman had bright red hair and a white woman had black hair with platinum highlights -- her supervisors said her hair was "not natural" because she was African-American, according to the complaint.
A manager at the Baltimore restaurant directed questions about the case to the corporate office.
Rebecca Sinclair, chief human resources officer for Hooters of America, denied that the chain has different standards for waitresses of different races.
"When you're representing an iconic brand there are standards to follow. Hooters Girls are required to be camera-ready at all times to promote the glamorous, wholesome look for which Hooters is known. Hooters adamantly denies that it has different policies and standards for hair based on race. As a global brand, Hooters embraces our culturally diverse employee base and our standards are applied impartially," Sinclair said in a statement.
Johnson said she had worked for nearly a year at Hooters, a restaurant that features scantily clad buxom women in its advertisements and describes itself as "delightfully tacky yet unrefined."
She was first reprimanded for her highlights in June and, when she did not change her hair color, she was fired in August, according to the complaint.
Johnson said she was not the only black Hooters employee who was instructed by managers to change her hair. In the complaint, she alleges that others were ordered to straighten their hair when they came to work with curly hair, even though white employees were allowed to work with curly hair.
Johnson is seeking lost wages for the time that she has been out of work, but, just as important, she wants Hooters to change its policy, Weber said.
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"She wants to show Hooters what they did was wrong and get them to change this," Weber said.