As long as it's not beset with beads, worn with wires, draped with decorations, shaped "unusually off her head," or otherwise "outlandishly sculptured," Pamela Mitchell's controversial cornrow hair style conforms with company policy, J.W. Marriott Hotel officials concluded yesterday.
The company's change of heart came one day after Mitchell, a 25-year-old reservation agent at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Washington, filed a complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights. She contended that the hotel's threat to fire her if she did not fix her hair differently was a discriminatory action.
But Marriott officials said yesterday that for the past few days they had reviewed Mitchell's hair style and the corporation's guidelines regulating employes' appearance on the job. They said they decided she could keep her job and her cornrows.
"We just decided that certainly there were cornrow hair styles that could fit within our policies," said Robert T. Souers, Marriott director of corporate relations. "Her hair style conforms; it's not excessive. Hers is a neat style that doesn't have excessive ornamentation."
Mitchell, an employe of the hotel since February, was called yesterday afternoon and told she could report to work last night, her hair fixed as she pleased.
She said she had expected to be fired Monday because she had not changed her hair style after three warnings and a monthlong leave of absence the company granted her to reshape her hair, or return wearing a wig. She first braided her hair in cornrows in November.
"I'm kind of surprised by their decision, because they were very strong against it in the beginning," Mitchell said last night. "But I'm real happy, too. I'm glad they decided to let me keep it this way."
Maudine Cooper, director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights, said yesterday that the city will continue to investigate the hotel's policy, and plans to work with hotel management to write new guidelines regulating employes' appearance.
Mitchell's complaint is the first filed with the human rights office alleging discrimination because of a cornrow hair style, Cooper said.
Mitchell's attorney, Eric Steele, said Tuesday that Mitchell filed another complaint in December about the cornrow hair style with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Souers said Marriott officials already have started clarifying their policy, which states that employes must dress in a businesslike manner and avoid "extreme or faddish" styles. Managers of each hotel use their discretion in interpreting that policy, he said.
Marriott is likely to decide that some cornrow hair styles still will not be appropriate appearance for its employes, Souers said.
"We still have to reserve the right to say that some hair styles just aren't appropriate," he said.
"If the cornrows had beads in them, or wires, or were shaped unusually off her head, I don't think that would be good. We just don't think hair that is somehow outlandishly sculptured is appropriate for business."