Discrimination claims are on the rise for public and private employers alike.  One new area of discrimination employers should be aware of arises from hairstyles.  The Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act (“The CROWN Act”) was first passed in California in 2019 and is a law that aims to prohibit race-based hair discrimination. Under the CROWN Act, this discrimination can include the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists, or bantu knots. Since 2019, there have been numerous efforts to pass the CROWN Act federally.  The CROWN Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2022 but has not been enacted.  In the meantime, twenty-two other states including Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, and New York have passed the CROWN Act or another comparable law.  

There have also been local efforts to enact the CROWN Act.   The CROWN Act was passed by the Columbus City Council in 2021, adding two new provisions to the Columbus City Code. Specifically, the term “Race” was updated to be inclusive of traits that are historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair textures and protective cultural hairstyles. Likewise, the phrase “protective and cultural hairstyles” includes hairstyles such as braids, locs, cornrows, bantu knots, afros, and twists, whether or not hair extensions or treatments are used to create or maintain any such hairstyle, and whether or not hair ornaments, beads, or head wraps adorn the hair. Regardless of whether an employer is currently under the CROWN Act, employers should be aware of discrimination claims arising from hairstyles and textures.  There are numerous steps that can be taken.

Employers who have policies in place regulating appearance in the workplace should review policies and procedures to ensure that protected hairstyles are not prohibited, and further, verify and monitor that discipline for violations of these policies are implemented and enforced equally among employees. Employers can also be proactive in providing discrimination and harassment training to directors, managers, and employees on common workplace discrimination topics and include the CROWN Act. 

Even without the benefit of the CROWN Act, employees may still bring claims of discrimination based on appearance and hairstyle under current law.  For example, it is possible that an employer’s response to an employees’ appearance could result in claims of discrimination based on race, religion, or national origin.

The attorneys at Fishel Downey regularly advise employers on issues related to discrimination and harassment in the workplace. If you have a specific question or scenario, and would like assistance, contact one of the attorneys at Fishel Downey Albrecht & Riepenhoff LLC at 614-221-1216.