Long-haired Virgin steward wins back his job

A VIRGIN Airlines flight attendant sacked for not conforming to the carrier's hairstyle bible has won his unfair dismissal battle.

The airline struggled for 15 months to get its employee, David Taleski, to comply with the company's personal grooming manual, The Look Book, before sacking him in October 2011.

But Mr Taleski provided medical evidence that he felt compelled to wear his hair long because he was suffering from a body-image disorder and had even taken to the skies in a wig to try to solve the impasse.

The epic struggle over Mr Taleski's hairstyle involved many meetings with senior airline management and at one point Virgin chief executive John Borghetti was asked to intervene.

The unfair dismissal case before the Fair Work Commission took a year, two failed marathon conciliations and reams of evidence, much of it relating to haircuts, The Look Book and wigs.

The commission heard evidence from a Virgin manager denying the haircuts authorised by The Look Book were too conservative and that it simply ''reflected how a typical guest expects a male employee to look''. The manager conceded though that the manual ''reflected the most conservative interpretation of what the typical guest would expect''.

The trouble started in July 2010 when the attendant told his bosses he would be growing his hair longer than the stipulated collar-length for religious reasons, but soon afterwards said the new hairstyle was due to a medical condition that he was uncomfortable discussing.

During the next 13 months, Mr Taleski provided Virgin with five medical certificates which, he argued, proved he was suffering from body dysmorphia disorder, relating to the length of his hair. But Virgin never accepted that the certificates provided a diagnosis that explained the attendant's persistent refusal to cut his hair.

After he was grounded because of his hair in April 2011, Mr Taleski suggested a slicked-back ponytail look as a compromise, only to be rebuffed by airline managers because The Look Book has no male ponytails.

The section in The Look Book for females, however, describes a ponytail as ''sleek, practical and shows off healthy hair to its full advantage''.

At haircut talks held with his bosses the following month, a new alternative style was also scotched after one manager formed a belief that Mr Taleski had used bobby pins to achieve his latest look.

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

But Virgin sacked Mr Taleski in October 2011 claiming that 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.

But Fair Work commissioner Anna Lee Cribb found Mr 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 Mr Taleski was not entitled to go over his managers' heads in the dispute, his conduct did not warrant dismissal.

She ordered Virgin to give Mr Taleski his job back. Virgin is understood to be considering appealing the decision.

Mr Taleski declined to comment, but his solicitor Maurice Addison said that his client had tried to comply with the airline's rules. ''Virgin just slavishly applied a policy in a stupid way, and that's why he got sacked,'' Mr Addison said.

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