A swanky salon on Manhattan’s Upper East Side has been penalized under the city’s hair discrimination legal guidelines, New York City’s Human Rights Commission announced last week. Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger salon is the first business in New York City to face the consequences of discriminating against Black employees for wearing their natural hair since the release of the commission’s guidelines on racial hair discrimination in February.
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The salon was accused of telling several Black female stylists that wearing Afros and braids to work ruined the high-end image on which the business prided itself. The discriminatory practice led to a fine of $70,000 and training on the City Human Rights Laws. The salon also engaged psychologist and natural hair advocate Dr. Gillian Scott-Ward, who directed the documentary “Back to Natural,” to lead the training as part of a settlement with the city’s human rights commission. Owner Sharon Dorram and senior stylist Tim Lehman have to complete 35 hours of community service with an organization that specializes in racial justice and equity. The organization is based on approval by the commission.
“This resolution is another step towards ensuring that racist notions of professional appearance standards are not applied in New York City,” Carmelyn P. Malalis, commissioner and chair of the human rights commission, said in a statement. “The restorative justice components incorporated into the resolution demonstrate the Commission’s commitment to repairing and re-investing in the communities impacted by discriminatory practices. These restorative remedies move beyond punishment to focus on repairing harm and achieving lasting justice and equity.”
The swanky beauty parlor has coiffed the manes of many celebrities including former first lady Michelle Obama. Hershberger is well-known for her hair care products, which contain 24k gold, and her $1,000 haircuts. The stylists at the salon appear to be overwhelmingly white, according to the Team section of its website, which shows staff photos.
Four complaints from former employees and a general manager, filed to the city’s human rights commission between 2016 and 2018, detailed the racial bias that happened while they worked at the salon, according to a previous story published by The New York Times.
Former general manager David Speer, who worked at the salon for six years, filed one of the complaints and said in a previous interview with the Times that Dorram, a colorist, pushed him to create and enforce an employee hair policy after he hired three Black women: Taren Guy, Raelene Roberts and Regine Aubourg. They were receptionists at the salon. He shared text messages with the Times from Dorram as proof of the discrimination.
“Today looked awful,” Dorram reportedly said in a text that Speer shared with the Times from August 2015. “Rail yne [sic] had her dreads down; Regine just got hers to match as long and of course Tarren [sic] All 3 at desk and we look like we should be on E. 134th Street. Sorry, nor [sic] racist just telling you we are on Mad. and 71st.”
Speer replied: “And Madison can never be black. Is that right?”
Dorram reportedly responded to his text by telling him that he was “missing the point.”
Another text that Dorram reportedly sent to Speer on the same day said:
“Can’t be 3 girls at the desk. 2 like this and 1 w/ big Afro. What is our image Please instruct them not to wear hair down and no nose rings”
Speer told the Times that he found Dorram’s statements offensive. She denied that the texts were racist and said the hair policy was not racially motivated.
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Hershberger told the New York Times that she was not involved in the allegations that caused the settlement. She also said she favored a “diverse work environment full of authenticity, integrity and individuality.”
She added that she is “taking all measures to ensure that my views are fully reflected at all of my salons.”
Dorram’s spokesperson told The New York Times that she “was extremely sorry that her actions have caused any person to feel uncomfortable in her salon.”
She said she has now adopted a nondiscriminatory policy that is inclusive of all hairstyles.
DiversityInc spoke with Alicia McCauley, the media contact for the human rights commission, to obtain copies of the complaints filed against the business but was advised that cases settled outside of the commission were not available.