Flight attendant sacked for long hair wins back job

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Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti.

Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti.

A male flight attendant has won an appeal against his unfair dismissal for wearing long hair by arguing he had a medically diagnosed body image disorder.

The employee of Virgin Australia, in which UAE national carrier Etihad Airways has a 9 percent stake, was sacked in October 2011 for disobeying the airline’s style guide, The Look Book, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

David Taleski had been in a battle with Virgin, including involving CEO John Borghetti, over his haircut for 15 months before being sacked.

In July 2010 he informed the airline he would be growing his hair longer than the allowed collar length due to religious reasons and then said it was due to a medical condition he felt uncomfortable talking about.

He told the Australian Fair Work Commission that during various stages he had presented Virgin with five medical certificates that proved he was suffering from body dysmorphia disorder, relating to the length of his hair.

Virgin did not accept the certificates and after numerous meetings he was grounded in April 2011.

Taleski offered to wear a slicked-back ponytail as a compromise but Virgin management argued it also was not included in the male section of The Look Book, although in the female section a ponytail was described as "sleek, practical and shows off healthy hair to its full advantage".

Another style also was banned because it required Taleski to use bobby pins.

The cabin crew member was allowed to return to the skies between July and October 2011 if he wore a wig, despite his worries the hairpiece would expose him to ridicule and interfere with his hair transplant, the SMH said.

Virgin fired Taleski in October 2011 claiming he had failed to provide medical evidence when asked for, that he persistently refused to conform to The Look Book, and had behaved improperly by trying to involve the airline's chief executive.

Fair Work commissioner Anna Lee Cribb in January found Taleski's hairpiece could confirm with The Look Book because the manual was effectively silent on the matter of a wig.

She also found that the attendant had provided medical evidence to back his claims of body dysmorphia disorder and although he was not entitled to go over his managers' heads in the dispute, his conduct did not warrant dismissal.

She ordered Virgin to reinstate Taleski.

Virgin sought leave to appeal the verdict but it was denied on Wednesday.

The flight attendant’s lawyer told the newspaper that Taleski hoped to return to the skies next week.

A Virgin spokeswoman said the airline's grooming guidelines were "consistent with many other airlines around the world".

"Today's decision confirms they are a reasonable set of standards for our front line team members to comply with," she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

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