NYPD supervisors have been warned not to discriminate against red-haired officers, and that any redhead harassment would not be tolerated, according to the New York Post.
No lawsuit has been filed against the city, but officials say a claim alleging unfair treatment over red hair would be supported by federal law, which bars workplace discrimination based on race, national origin, skin color, religion, sex or disability.
Red hair qualifies because people with the rare hair color are found in higher numbers in Scotland, Ireland and Britain than elsewhere, according to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“We’re apparently victims now,” said one cop with red hair. “We’re protected from discrimination.”
“It’s an innocuous-seeming criteria, but if it has a ‘disparate impact’ on a certain racial group, red hair could be considered the basis of discrimination,” said Justine Lisser of the EEOC.
Some feel the protection of redheads is over the top. “To put redheads in a protective class -- that’s ridiculous!” said a retired officer who was often called "Carrot Top," a common term for redheads. “Toughen up,” he added.
But one retired cop told The Post that he was bullied as a kid and called a "red-headed devil." “You get abuse every day when your hair is red,” he said. “You get beaten and chased. You better learn how to fight.”
Prejudice against redheads is widespread in some cultures. People with red hair are often said to have a "fiery" temperament. Red hair and green eyes were thought to signal a witch, werewolf or vampire during the Middle Ages.
More recently, people with red hair are commonly referred to as "gingers," which is sometimes considered insulting. One Canadian teenager started a "Kick a Ginger" Facebook group in 2008, which advocated for a "National Kick a Ginger Day."
In 2011, Cryos International, one of the world's largest sperm banks, announced it would no longer accept donations from red-haired men due to low demand.