A former Hooters waitress has been awarded more than $250,000 after an arbitrator found that racial discrimination contributed to her getting fired.
Farryn Johnson, who is African-American, was fired from her Baltimore restaurant job in August 2013 because "Hooters prohibits African-American Hooters Girls from wearing blond highlights in their hair," according to a lawsuit.
While other women were allowed to highlight their hair, the restaurant manager told Johnson she couldn't be at work with blond streaks because it didn't look "natural" on African-Americans, the suit said.
"The manager at the time literally said, 'You can't have blond because black people don't have blond hair,'" Johnson, who had worked at the restaurant for about a year, told NBC affiliate WBAL-TV in Baltimore.
Johnson told the station her shifts were slashed and she received written warnings about her hair, and then ultimately, she was fired.
"I was shocked. I couldn't believe it," she said.
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Johnson sued, and last Thursday, an arbitrator awarded her more than $250,000 for lost wages and legal fees.
Arbitrator Edmund D. Cooke Jr. wrote that Hooters violated state and federal civil rights laws and that the hair policy "was implemented in a discriminatory manner adversely affecting African-American women."
Hooters criticized the ruling in a lengthy statement on its website, claiming the restaurant never told Johnson she couldn't wear her hair a certain way.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," the statement said, calling the arbitrator's decision "flawed."
Ericka Whitaker, senior brand manager of Hooters of America, said in the statement, "As a former Hooters Girl who happens to be African-American, I, like countless other African-American Hooters Girls today, regularly wore my hair in various shades of blond, or any other color consistent with our ‘girl next door’ image.”
The restaurant chain also called reports of Johnson receiving $250,000 in back pay exaggerated.
"Ms. Johnson did not receive $250,000 in back pay, but rather only $11,886.40, while her attorneys on the other hand received approximately $244,000 in attorneys’ fees," it said.
But Johnson's lawyers said that claim was incorrect, and that Johnson was fully compensated for all her lost wages, as well as for compensatory damages.
"I hope that Hooters sees this as an opportunity to make improvements in the way they train their managers and the way they deal with their employees," Andrew Levy, Johnson's attorney, told WBAL.