Samantha Armistead is a senior-level student who just graduated from Mary G. Montgomery High School in Semmes, Alabama. Even though she’s a good student, her school forbade her from walking across the stage because she refused to wear a skirt to the graduation ceremony. You see, Armistead hasn’t worn dresses since age eight—she prefers jeans or slacks—and even offered to wear nice dress pants matching the boys’s apparel, but no go. Now graduation’s over now, and the question still remains—did she have any legal right to dress as she pleased? In short, no.
Keep in mind that a young woman wearing pants isn’t cross-dressing or even lesbian behavior. Her mother Debra has it right when she simply calls the school’s policy “sexist.” After all, the graduation gown typically covers up most student apparel and a covered pair of lady’s legs isn’t likely to draw tons of attention from an otherwise ho-hum event.
But despite Samantha’s claim to freedom of expression, commenters on the local FOX news website said that Samantha should have just followed her school’s graduation dress code seeing as she’ll probably have to conform to an unpleasant company dress code when she enters the work world. Of course, lots of companies don’t force their female employees to wear dresses and Armistead probably wouldn’t want to work at such a company if they did. But does that mean she had any legal right to dress as she pleased?
Since the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of dress codes, most lawsuits over dress codes as free speech typically get handled by state or district courts. Alabama courts have not yet issued a ruling on the matter, leaving Samantha at the will of her school unless she decides to gets a lawyer to help establish a law.
In regards to employer dress codes, one human resources expert says that employee dress codes don’t violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as they’re applied uniformly and do not impose a greater burden on women.
Strangely Armistead’s case sounds like the gender opposite of what happened to nineteen-year-old Canadian student Hamish Jacobs when he got told that he couldn’t wear his family kilt to his graduation.
It’s sad that Samantha’s high school education should end with this final lesson—young women should only get to complete their education and enter the adult world in pretty pretty dresses.