DEI continues to be a hot topic in workplaces. Diversity and inclusion should allow every employee, no matter the race, gender, religion, etc., to bring his/her whole self to work, and not have to hide their differences. This includes differences in hairstyles. While TMI promotes professionalism in the workplace, “professionalism” must be a broad definition, to include more hairstyles than Eurocentric ideas of beauty. It is inherently unfair that, to be employable, people of color should be forced to wear a wig, hair extensions, or put chemicals in their hair to achieve a more Eurocentric look, so others feel more comfortable with their hair. This type of race-based hair discrimination has most notably been targeted toward African American women (and more recently, men) who have coily, thick, coarse hair.
A case is pending in Louisiana alleging race-based hair discrimination. In Equal Emp. Opportunity Comm’n v. American Screening LLC, the plaintiff, an African American woman, wore a straight-hair wig at a job interview with the defendant in August 2018. She was offered the job with the defendant and began employment. In mid to late September, she stopped wearing the wig and instead, had her natural, tightly coiled hair styled in a bun. The plaintiff alleges that she was discharged on October 18, 2018, after she refused to wear the wig. A jury trial is set to start in September 2023.
On July 3, 2019, California became the first state to pass the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (“CROWN”) Act. Since then, twenty (20) states enacted the CROWN Act into law. Also, for the states that have not enacted this law, more than forty (40) local areas have, including right here in Ohio: Akron, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Newburgh Heights.
The federal CROWN Act is a bill that if passed by the U.S. Senate, it will prohibit race-based hair discrimination. Specifically, employers will be prohibited from denying individuals employment and educational opportunities (K-12 public and charter schools) because of hair texture or protective hairstyles (i.e., braids, locs, twists, bantu knots, etc.). On March 18, 2022, the House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act. However, it did not pass the U.S. Senate on December 14, 2022.
Although the Act is not yet a federal law, the Act, in many states, constitutes state and local law. Therefore, employers in these states and cities should carefully read the enacted law, as every state and local law is not identical. Employers should also review their employee handbooks, training materials, dress codes, and grooming policies to ensure compliance with the governing law and train employees accordingly. Even if you are employed in an area where no such law is enacted, it is worthwhile to be aware of this law if it becomes federal law (or state/local law in your area).
If you need assistance in understanding or applying this legislation and/or its implications, do not hesitate to contact TMI.