Singled out |

Singled out

Patrick Whitehurst

In April 2001, I was recommended for an irrigation job at the Beaver Creek Golf Course, which falls under VR’s reign.

My supervisors were skeptical upon meeting me due to my hairstyle. Yes, my dreadlocks were out of the ordinary, but they concluded that if I was a good worker and punctual, there would not be a problem. My hair was (and still is) much shorter than four or five male employees already working there, and could easily be pulled back into one small ponytail. I went so far as to say that I would wear a tam or beanie that covered my entire head which would not cause any undo looks or controversy. After all, I would be working maintenance, most of my days would be spent digging holes or fixing broken water lines, out of the public eye.

I went down to human resources in the Seasons’ building, filled out the necessary paperwork and became an employee of Vail Resorts. A few weeks later I went to HR to arrange for a direct deposit as well as to check on my benefits status. As the winter rapidly approached, I was transferred to Ski Corral at Beaver Creek. Again I went to HR, twice, to fill out more of the same paperwork.

I should mention that not once during the winter did a guest, mountain employee, or “higher ups” in Vail Resorts degrade or even mention anything about my hair. Nor was anything mentioned the previous summer at the golf course. Instead I was greeted with a warm “hello” or “good morning.”

For many reasons I was looking forward to returning to the golf course for another summer of work. First and foremost of those reasons were my fellow co-workers. They epitomized everything I loved about this valley. Those same supervisors that were skeptical a year earlier welcomed me back with open arms. They actually insisted that I begin as soon as possible, as there was much work to be done, and I was certainly capable of doing it.

After a month or so of work (and after two paychecks at incorrect wages that were not deposited into my account, nor were they delivered to the golf course – I had to hunt them down in such places as the service center – I went down to HR on my day off to set up a direct deposit and have my insurance deducted from my checks. A member of the office staff quickly assisted me. As I was filling out more of the same paperwork as seasons past, another member of the staff approached me. He asked me if I intended to work for VR. I informed him that I was in fact in my second year with the corporation. He then told me that I was in direct violation of corporate policy and my dreads needed to be cut off. I responded by telling him that my bosses held others and me to different standards as was allowed in the Employee Handbook. My standard included covering my head with a hat that concealed all of my hair. Surely this was acceptable, as I worked maintenance and not guest services.

Instead of speaking with my superiors, as the chain of command dictates, he wrote a letter to members of the executive board as well as other senior officials in Vail Resorts. Soon my superiors were sent a letter that included my ultimatum – cut your hair off or be terminated. How is it that guy can have so much pull in Vail Resorts? How is it that the statement (on page 15 of the Employee Handbook) “some departments may hold individuals to a different appearance and grooming standard than those presented” not apply to golf course maintenance? Why do I feel like Ice Cube in Friday? How do you get fired on your day off?

Why am I being singled out when so many of Vail Resorts’ employees are also in violation of the standards set forth? Surely the public has seen VR employees such as ticket scanners, lift operators, snowmakers, and ski school instructors with hair length extending past the middle of the shoulder blades. The handbook also states, “only normal hair coloring on male and female staff.” To think that all employees adhere to that standard is laughable. I knew of several male ski instructors who wore more than the allowed one earring. “Very discreet tattoos are allowed. Other tattoos must be covered.” I have seen employees with indiscreet tattoos on their forearms, shoulder blades, ankles, and legs – not all of them have been covered up. All of these people and tons more are in violation of Vail Resorts’ corporate policy – purge them all!

I would like to thank my fellow employees at the golf course for putting up with my renegade ways, as well as their friendship and support. I would especially like to congratulate Shane, Jerry, and Bob (my superiors) for treating me like a human being – your steadfastness and leadership is unparalleled. I wish that I was still an employee of Vail Resorts. After all, we are in the middle of a drought and I bet the golf course could use another competent, hard-working irrigator.

After the events of Sept. 11, I thought our country became more tolerant and understanding regarding individual differences. There are television commercials with simple messages – “Eliminate the Hate.” In one particular advertisement men and women of differing races and religions plead with Americans for tolerance, acceptance, and love. At the end of the commercial (advertising only to be a good American) a white male with dreadlocks states, “There is room in America for everyone.” I truly believe that statement. Too bad VR does not.

Patrick Whitehurst


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