A receptionist at a number of Cincinnati-area Aspen Dental offices resigned Tuesday after she says she faced discrimination from her employer due to her hair.
Delyshia Childers said the doctor approached her Tuesday about her hair in the company's Hamilton office.
"He pretty much told me my hair was unprofessional," Childers said. "He also asked me if I could style it."
Dr. Martin Kireru has apologized and said he misinterpreted a dress code that applies to clinical staff for patient safety, occupational and hazard standards. He called Childers a "top-performing employee."
Clinical staff like dental assistants, who work with patients, are required to wear long hair pulled back, but the same does not apply to receptionists.
Childers wears her curly hair naturally at about shoulder length.
She said she felt targeted by Kireru because other women who wore their hair down were not approached about the issue.
"I shouldn't be told...that how I wear my hair defines how professional I am," Childers said. "It grows out of your head, it's not like you can control that."
After the encounter, Childers said she went to her car and contacted the office manager and the regional manager about the situation.
She said both managers were supportive of her, but pushed for her to return to work.
"You don't care about what was said or how it made me feel, you just want me to work," Childers said.
Childers said she resigned Thursday morning. She told The Enquirer she does not plan to file a lawsuit and does not believe Kireru should lose his job. Childers said she is currently employed with another company.
Aspen Dental officials told The Enquirer they would hire Childers back. They said they tried to contact her to make accommodations for her to continue working for the company, but not with Kireru.
"As the practice owner, I am truly sorry for my comment, which was my own misinterpretation of a dress code that applies to clinical staff for patient safety, occupational and hazard standards," Kireru wrote in a statement.
"I want to personally apologize to Delyshia, who is well-respected by me, her peers and our patients. All hair is accepted, has no impact on the job and I am saddened that this caused distress for someone who is a top-performing employee."
Kireru said he wishes he could have the opportunity to apologize to Childers in person.
"We wish she would stay with the Aspen Dental family, which is a diverse and inclusive community of care providers," Kireru said.
Anahita Cameron, Aspen Dental's senior vice president of human resources, said the company reached out to Childers to ask her to stay.
"We would hate to lose her over an unfortunate misunderstanding," Cameron said. "We conducted a thorough investigation and although we do not agree with the claim of hair discrimination, we would welcome her back because she is a top-performing employee who represents who we are – a diverse, inclusive organization."
Childers said the incident prompted her to do her own research into hair discrimination. She said that night she signed a petition in support "The CROWN Act," a legislative initiative to ban discrimination over hair.
According to its website, eight states have passed such laws along with 17 cities.
Cincinnati passed an ordinance banning businesses from discriminating on the basis of hair in 2019, at the time it was only the second city in the country to do so.
Covington followed suit last October. Columbus, Akron and Newburgh Heights in Ohio have similar laws.
"I definitely think those laws are good protection for women and people with natural hair," Childers said, adding that the issue also comes up in schools and sports. "It's definitely a topic I want to advocate for."