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ACLU Lawyer Completes Agreement With TSA To Track Down Hair Searches and Discovers Racial Discrimination


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Apr 01, 2015

The American Civil Liberties Union ACLU finalized their agreement with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to track down records and documents of hair searches. Upon completion, possible bias and racial discrimination has been discovered of hair searches that have been done, targetting African-American women. 

Prior to the agreement, several African-American women have filed complaints with ACLU about their hair being searched and TSA members targetting them because of their hair. ACLU staff attorney Novella Coleman experienced three different bias searches from TSA members. Although TSA explained the searches to be routine, Coleman expressed her searches were racially disciminative and subjective.

"The first time it happened to me, I was completely caught off guard. I went through the full body scanner at the airport. I turned around and looked at the screen, nothing unusual was on it. And then the TSA agent next to me said, 'Now I need to search your hair.' And then she proceeded to grab my hair and just squeeze it from top to bottom. And then she found nothing. … The two white women that I was with from work went through. Nothing happened. They weren't searched."

During the incident, Novella Coleman asked the TSA member the reason or reasons for the search, it was explained that any kind if suspected abnormalities of the hair, should be searched. But when the TSA manager arrived, he recited the policy to Coleman, stating if the scalp is not shown, TSA will conduct hair searches.

Coleman who has dreadlocks disagrees and confirmed to her lawyers her scalp was showing on the day of the incident. She expressed, the searches were intrusive and violated her rights. Since then, TSA has been under investigation by ACLU who viewed a pattern of these searches being conducted only on African-American women, based on the several complaints they received about the matter.

Coleman and other clients have reached an agreement with TSA, following the agreement TSA will revise their hair search policy and treat all passengers regardless of how their hair looks like, with respect and dignity. TSA will also re-train their staff and undergo policy review which might be discriminating or offensive to any races, culture, ethnicity and etc.