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Discrimination and Dress Codes

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[Thanks to Louise Jones of Temple Garden Chambers for preparing this case summary]

The High Court has handed down its decision in SG v St Gregory's Catholic Science College, where Collins J found that a uniform policy of prohibiting a cornrows hairstyle for all pupils - without exception - can result in indirect race discrimination, but not sex discrimination.

Collins J found that there was evidence that there are those of African-Caribbean ethnicity who do for reasons based on their culture and ethnicity regard the cutting of their hair to be wrong, so that they need their hair to be kept in cornrows. As such, there was a group who could be at particular disadvantage by a blanket policy that refused to allow cornrows. The School's arguments that a blanket policy could be justified were rejected.

On sex discrimination, Collins J referred to the Court of Appeal's decision in Smith v Safeway [1996] ICR 868 and the guidance that rules concerning appearances that enforce a common principle of smartness or conventionality will not be discriminatory; a policy looked at as a whole that allowed cornrows for girls, but not boys, did not amount to unlawful sex discrimination.

The facts of this case had arisen in September 2009, and the question of whether there had been an unlawful refusal to accept the claimant in cornrows will depend on the determination of what the School knew or ought to have known at the time.