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Avis Ends Five-Year Ban on Hair Style

March 16, 1988

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The Avis car rental company suddenly reversed a five-year policy forbidding employees to wear cornrow hair braids after two black workers filed a racial discrimination complaint Tuesday.

In a memorandum filed with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, longtime employees Linda Holman, 43, and Wanda Williams, 35, contended a ban against the small, tight braids injected ″racial considerations into the employment process.″

They argued that the ban targeted blacks because the hair style was worn predominantly by blacks, often as an affirmation of their African heritage.

Just hours after the memorandum was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Avis Rent A Car Systems Inc. headquarters in Garden City, N.Y., notified the Philadelphia branch that the ban had been lifted.

″This is the fastest victory I ever had in my life,″ said ACLU attorney Stephan Presser. ″I’m just delighted. My clients won.″

The company was in the process of formalizing new standards allowing cornrows before the employees’ filed their complaint, said Avis spokesman John Britton. The new grooming guidelines will appear in a brochure to be issued to Avis’ 1,400 national branches in May, he said.

Cornrows were banned in a written circular in 1983, along with ″extreme″ bouffant hairdos and unkempt layered cuts.

″But things are modified, hairstyles are modified and attitudes are modified,″ Britton said. ″In the ’60s, we used to require women behind the counter to wear girdles, and we had rules governing hair length and facial hair. All those things have changed over time.″

According to Presser, Ms. Holman and Ms. Williams were warned that they would be fired when they began wearing cornrows in July. The rental agents wore wigs over the cornrows ″until they literally became a headache″ and then gave up the hairstyle, he said.

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