“On a single day, he was asked to turn his back on everything he believed in,” the lawsuit states. “Myrie’s faith and hair locs were a source of comfort and stability in his life. He had a deep and personal spiritual connection to his hair locs, and would not have cut them if he knew he could have kept them in accordance with federal law and the city’s CROWN Act.”
The city applied a double standard by allowing female police officers to keep their locs, Myrie alleged. He said other male officers were also pressured to cut their locs in order to work for the city.
South Fulton’s former deputy police chief, Connie Rogers, told Myrie he would have to cut his hair in January 2021, per the complaint. Myrie said that instruction was ironic, as Rogers had locs at the time.
“Myrie was horrified at Rogers’ statement, and felt that he was being asked to abandon his faith in order to accept a job opportunity that he worked hard to secure,” the complaint states.
Another of Myrie’s superiors also told him he could not work as a South Fulton police officer unless he cut his hair, he claimed.
Rogers, who is now the chief of police in College Park, did not immediately comment on Myrie’s claims when contacted Tuesday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Rogers is not a defendant in the lawsuit.
Representatives of South Fulton did not immediately respond to questions about the case.
The city is accused of violating the Civil Rights Act as well as its CROWN Act of 2020, which stands for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, according to Myrie’s complaint.
Myrie, 36, claims his South Fulton superiors failed to tell him that he could apply to keep his locs on religious grounds. He said he learned of the possibility from the city’s human resources staff years too late, once he’d repeatedly cut his hair and developed a skin condition preventing it from growing back.
Credit: Milton Myrie
Credit: Milton Myrie
Losing his locs caused anxiety and depression, Myrie alleged. He said a previous law enforcement employer allowed him to keep his locs due to his religion, but that his superiors at South Fulton told him the city had no such allowance.
Myrie said he took his concerns about South Fulton to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February, days after he resigned. He said the majority of employees in South Fulton’s police department are African American, and that department leaders understand locs are commonly associated with the Rastafari culture and religion.
Arnold J. Lizana, Myrie’s attorney, told the AJC that natural hair discrimination is widespread in Georgia and a problem nationwide. A federal CROWN Act, prohibiting race-based hair discrimination, passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in March 2022 but stalled in the U.S. Senate.
Lizana said Myrie, who is now employed as a police officer elsewhere in Georgia, was emotionally scarred by his ordeal at South Fulton.
“You can’t put a price on his dignity and spiritual wellbeing,” Lizana said. “We believe a jury would return a multimillion-dollar verdict.”