Pamela Mitchell says she wants to keep her part-time job as a reservationist at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in downtown Washington, but she also wants to keep her cornrow hair style. Her supervisors have said her hair style is not appropriate for work in the hotel.
Last night Mitchell, 25, arrived for work at the hotel at 14th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW expecting to be fired after having received two written notices directing her to change her hair style. Instead, a hotel manger sent her home with pay for the night and told her to report back tomorrow evening for a meeting.
Mitchell, who maintains that the hotel policy discriminates against black women, said she was pleased with the hotel's decision to continue to talk with her and to not immediately fire her.
"They said they would discuss it with me on Wednesday," Mitchell told several reporters outside the hotel's employe entrance. "They said they would see what they could do."
Mitchell, who has been employed by the hotel since February, said she came to work in late November with her new hair style, a series of neat small braids in her shoulder length hair. Although she received compliments on her cornrows from both hotel managers and fellow workers, her supervisors told her the style was too extreme.
A hair style with African origins, cornrow braids are worn predominantly by black women. The style also was popularized by white actress Bo Derek in the movie "10."
Mitchell said she would give up her hotel job before she would surrender her cornrows.
"I see it as an expression of culture," she said. "And the principle involved here is more important than my job."
Mitchell also holds a full-time job as a personnel assistant for WETA-TV (Channel 26).
Robert T. Souers, director of corporate relations for Marriott, said other hotel employes with cornrow hair had agreed to wear a wig to work. He said it was unusual for a disagreement over a hair style to reach the point of possible termination.
"We will make no final decision about Miss Mitchell tonight," he said yesterday. "It is important we give this policy and case some review to make sure both our interests and the interests of our employes are best served by whatever action we take."
Souers said he expected the corporation would make a decision in about a week.
Last year, Cheryl Tatum, a restaurant cashier for the Hyatt Hotel in Crystal City, was fired when she refused to unbraid her cornrows. She is now pursuing a discrimination claim before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as is Sydney Boone, a telephone operator with the Grand Hyatt in downtown Washington who wears a wig to cover her braids.
In her job, Mitchell has no direct contact with the public, but Souers said, the grooming restriction is still appropriate. He said creating two sets of grooming standards would cause resentment among workers in public positions.
"Her supervisor said there is a prohibition against extreme hair styles and we think cornrows fall into that category," Souers said. "We told her we would like her to change her hair style."
Mitchell said she hoped the hotel would change its policy.