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Hair Is the Latest Discrimination Battlefield in the U.S.

States from coast to coast in the U.S. have passed legislation that bans discrimination on the basis of hair texture and style. Referred to as the CROWN Act, nearly 20 states have added hair to its list of protected classes.

Employers in states with a CROWN Act cannot make employment decisions based on a person’s hair. Doing so would constitute employment discrimination and leave the employer vulnerable to potential lawsuits.

Federal protection is possible in the future. The federal CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act) passed the U.S. House of Representatives in March 2022 and has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If the legislation makes it to the president's desk, President Joe Biden has signaled he will sign it. The law would prohibit natural hair discrimination under Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, and other federal civil rights laws.

Crown Acts Are Law in 18 States

Massachusetts became the latest state to pass a CROWN Act with Gov. Charlie Baker signing the legislation into law on July 23, 2022. The legislation prohibits hair discrimination in employment, business, advertising, and public spaces.

California was the first state to enact a CROWN Act on July 3, 2019.

Here are the 18 states that either passed a CROWN Act or amended state discrimination laws:

  1. California (July 3, 2019)
  2. Colorado (March 6, 2020)
  3. Connecticut (March 4, 2021)
  4. Delaware (April 13, 2021)
  5. Illinois (Aug. 13, 2021)
  6. Louisiana (June 21, 2022)
  7. Maine (May 3, 2022)
  8. Maryland (May 8, 2020)
  9. Massachusetts (July 26, 2022)
  10. Nebraska (May 5, 2021)
  11. Nevada (June 4, 2021)
  12. New Jersey (Dec. 19, 2019)
  13. New Mexico (April 5, 2021)
  14. New York (July 12, 2019)
  15. Oregon (June 11, 2021)
  16. Tennessee (May 27, 2022)
  17. Virginia (March 3, 2020)
  18. Washington (March 19, 2020)

Illinois’ CROWN Act provided protection in schools only. An amendment currently awaiting the governor’s signature would expand the protection to the workplace. Other states are expected to follow suit.

Protected Classes in Employment Discrimination

Each state at a minimum provides protections in the workplace for protected classes outlined in federal law but can expand to include additional classifications.

Federal protections in employment include the following:

Discrimination is illegal in all employment actions such as interviewing, hiring, promoting, and compensating individuals.

Driving Factors Behind the CROWN Act

Policies that prohibit natural hairstyles have been used to disproportionately impact Black children and adults. Black people must conform to Eurocentric standards or risk employment or educational opportunities. To be accepted, they must pay for expensive relaxing treatments, hot tools, or wigs.

Publicized cases of hair discrimination in schools and workplaces have illuminated the issue.

An Alabama customer service representative was fired in May 2010 after she refused to cut her dreadlocks. Her Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit failed because the Alabama district court ruled in 2016 that dreadlocks did not violate federal civil rights laws.

The issue came into focus in Massachusetts when two young Black twin sisters were disciplined for wearing long braids to their charter school. They were kicked off their sports teams because they refused to change their hair.

A lawsuit was filed in Houston, TX in 2020 against Barbers Hill Independent School District for its discriminatory hair policy. Two students were suspended indefinitely over their hair, with one banned from attending his high school graduation.

A 2020 study found Black women with natural hairstyles were perceived to be less professional and less competent.

The U.S. Army’s 2017 decision to lift its ban on dreadlocks as well as increased calls for racial justice throughout the country have spurred new thoughts about how hair is often used to discriminate.

Stand Up Against Workplace Discrimination

At Shellist Lazarz Slobin, we focus solely on employment law. Our attorneys have helped clients fight discrimination or retaliation in all Texas courts, U.S. district courts, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court. We have extensive experience in handling administrative claims with the EEOC, the Texas Workforce-Civil Rights Division, and the U.S. Department of Labor.

If you face discrimination in the workplace, schedule a consultation to tell us more about your case. Reach out through our online form or call (713) 352-3433.