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A few months ago, Brenda McElmore went into a JC Penney salon in Downey, California for a dye job. However, the stylist informed Ms. McElmore that “we don’t do African American hair,” which caused McElmore to have a very understandable fit. After writing several letters, a JCPenney representative responded with the following quote:

“Our salon receptionist felt that we did not have the technical proficiency… to perform the service you required. She may not however have expressed this to you in a way that was not offensive. For this I again apologize. Because customer service is… so important to our company, we would rather not attempt the service if we cannot perform it as required.”

McElmore wasn’t having it. With the help of high-powered lawyer Gloria Allred, McElmore sued the company for racial discrimination. According to Allred, the stylist’s refusal goes against California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which posits that patrons cannot be denied service based on race.

However, this situation begs the question, would YOU want someone inexperienced with black hair working on your head, or would you rather an honest stylist tell you she’s not quite sure what to do? McElmore maintains that a dye job is a dye job, regardless of texture, but what about post-dye styling? While the stylist perhaps could have phrased her refusal in a different way, the fact is, she probably would rather say no than get sued for messing up McElmore’s head in an irreversible way.

The Oprah perm-in-France story comes to mind.

The talk-show host went into a “chi chi poo poo” salon in Paris and requested a relaxer – a procedure none of the stylists were familiar with. The result was a bald Oprah and months of wig-wearing, despite the fact that they warned her of their inexperience before starting the treatment.

So ladies, who’s in the wrong here? The JCPenney stylist, McElmore for suing, or the hair academy for not teaching their stylists about the wide range of hair types? Let us know!

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