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Sister who shaved head in solidarity told to wear wig at work

June 17, 2013 at 9:15 AM ET

Sisters Marisa Lowe and Melanie Strandberg are separated by one year, but not much else.

"My sister and I have been best friends for as long as I can remember,” Strandberg told TODAY. “We’ve done everything together."

That includes fighting cancer.

Last year, at age 23, Lowe battled stage-three ovarian cancer. Big sister Strandberg, who had just beaten cervical cancer, shaved her head as a sign of solidarity for her balding sibling, who was losing her hair from chemotherapy.

“It meant more than, I think, she even knows,” Lowe said in the segment that aired Monday.

Two weeks ago, when the sisters learned that Lowe’s cancer had returned, Strandberg knew what she had to do.

“They told her chemo, and I found my clippers,” she said.

But this time, Strandberg, a hair stylist at a Spokane, Wash., salon, said work reacted differently to her decision. She said supervisors asked her to wear a wig, claiming that she couldn’t market hair products without hair — and that her baldness might make clients uncomfortable.

Strandberg said she had no choice but quit her job.

“I decided that I can’t just support her 50 percent of the time,” she said of her sister. “That’s not why I did it.”

In her resignation letter, which she later posted on Facebook, Strandbeg declared, "I consider myself, my sister, and every bald woman out there to be strong and beautiful!"

Strandberg’s employer says it is investigating what happened because her story clashes with the culture and values the company promotes.

"We have no policy that prohibits this. If there was a violation of any of our policies then we will take the appropriate action," said Phil Haugen, general manager of Northern Quest Resort and Casino.

Haugen also said Strandberg can return to her job if she wants it.

For now, the sisters are focusing on the future.

"When it comes down to it, you have your family and you have your faith,” Lowe said. “And, if you can't stick up for those two things, then what really in this world are we willing to stick up for?"

NBC legal analyst Star Jones said there may have been a communication failure between top management and supervisors at Strandberg’s salon who failed to adhere to company policy.

If the stylist had lost her hair because she was sick, she would have been protected by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

“If there’s a dress code, if you will, or a uniform you need to wear and you know that going in to your employment, that’s one thing,” Jones said Monday on TODAY. “You’re in a hair salon, and the hair salon is all about being creative and being funky. It may generate conversation with a guest or with a client, so I’m not sure a salon manger can say, ‘We want everybody to have long hair,’ especially if you have a guy cutting hair next to you and that guy is bald. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

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