Chick-fil-A is facing a whirlwind of criticism and condemnation after they sent home a 16-year-old black employee because they thought her blonde-ish hair color was ‘unnatural’ to her. The teenage employee was confused because she had never dyed her hair before and it was, in fact, her natural hair color.
Autumn Williams, who has dark-blonde/brownish-blonde braids, was working the counter on July 13 when she was approached by a supervisor. While speaking with her manager in private, Williams was told, “We’re going to have to ask you to leave and not come back until the blonde is out of your hair.”
Embarrassed, shocked, perplexed, stunned – all words that described the diverse range of emotions she was feeling at that moment. “She said we understand that’s a long process and might not be easy, so email when you can come back,” Autumn said in an interview with PEOPLE – she didn’t know what to do.
At first, Autumn Williams was under the impression that she would get to finish her shift before being sent home – but that wasn’t the case and she was forced to leave immediately. So, she called her mother to pick her up and once she arrived, Autumn’s supervisors were reluctant to provide any further explanation.
Her mom grew even more confused when she looked around and saw ‘this Caucasian boy with bleached blonde hair and black tips’ – casting her doubt that it was his natural hair color. “So this is beginning to look a little racist to me,” her mother continued – a sentiment that just about anyone would agree with.
Searching for an explanation, Autumn’s mother was referred to an HR rep – who had recently visited the restaurant and was the one who initially complained about her ‘unnatural hair.’ When asked what Autumn did wrong, the HR rep declined to elaborate and maintained his stance that she violated the dress code.
While the employee handbook says ‘unnatural hair colors or eccentric styles (e.g. Mohawks, shaven designs, etc.) are not permitted,’ Autumn says her supervisor made no mention of her hair color violating the dress code during orientation and only said she ‘had to keep my hair off my face,’ – which she did.
Chick-fil-A Maintained Their Stance Until the Local News Started Asking Questions
Even after Autumn Williams and her mother, Nina Burch, explained that it was her natural hair color, Chick-fil-A maintained their stance and told the mother-daughter duo to ‘refer to the handbook.’ It wasn’t until a local news station grabbed ahold of the story that Chick-fil-A started changing its racist stance.
In fact, they were quick to claim that ‘the restaurant’s Owner/Operator reached out to Autumn and told her the policy had been misinterpreted.’ And while they welcomed her back to work, it was too late because Autumn had already put in her notice and had no intention of ever working there again – rightfully so.
“Blonde is a natural hair color so I am not sure who made the designation my color was unnatural to me specifically…Even when I take my braids down, my hair will still be this color as it is the hair color I was born with,” Autumn wrote in a text to her manager – adding that the ‘situation has racist undertones.’
While Autumn has found new employment in the month since, the incident still haunts her to this day and she has plans to take action. She and her mother have yet to file a lawsuit, but they did file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to discuss the proper next steps.
“I’m now not just an average 16-year-old, I’m an average 16-year-old who has experienced first-hand racism to my face,” Autumn Williams said in her interview with PEOPLE. “I’ve been lucky for the majority of my life not to experience that, so it’s a shocker when it happens to you.”
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