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Senate Bill Would Ban Discrimination By Employers Based On Hairstyle

By  Hank Berrien
Photo by Ryan Morris/EyeEm/GettyImages

A bill introduced in December in the House of Representatives and in January in the Senate by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee on the basis of their hair.

In December 2019, New Jersey became the third state in the nation to pass The Crown Act, (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair) following California and New York in July 2019. Booker stated at the time:

As the legislative year comes to a close, New Jersey has been hard at work reforming our criminal justice system so that it will treat incarcerated women with dignity, restore voting rights for formerly incarcerated individuals, and put a stop to hair discrimination.  All New Jerseyans deserve to be treated with decency and respect, and each of these measures will end unequitable and disenfranchising realities that too many have been facing. Today’s passage of the CROWN Act marks a historic step in banning a culture of discrimination against black hair.  Hair discrimination is a civil rights violation and we must stop reinforcing racism and biases against Black hair.

Esi Eggleston Bracey, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of North America Beauty and Personal Care at Unilever, the New Jersey-based parent company of Dove, added a statement for the company: “It is our mission at Dove to champion individual beauty and ensure all beauty is respected and welcome in our society.  For too long, narrow beauty standards have perpetuated unfair scrutiny and injustice for hairstyles and textures inherent to Black identity.  On the anniversary of the infamous and painful wrestling incident, I am proud that New Jersey has passed The CROWN Act to put an end to hair discrimination.”

Booker’s bill in the Senate, S. 3167, states in part, “ … people of African descent are deprived of educational and employment opportunities because they are adorned with natural or protective hairstyles in which hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled, or worn in locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, or Afros … some Federal courts have misinterpreted Federal civil rights law by narrowly interpreting the meaning of race or national origin, and thereby permitting, for example, employers to discriminate against people of African descent who wear natural or protective hairstyles even though the employment policies involved are not related to workers’ ability to perform their jobs.”

A differing opinion was offered by Appeals Court Judge Adalberto Jordan in a concurrence to the 2017 case EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, in which he wrote,  “Banning dreadlocks in the workplace under a race-neutral grooming policy — without more — does not constitute intentional race-based discrimination. Dreadlocks are not … an immutable characteristic of black individuals.”

He added, “For the time being, we are left with Supreme Court precedent explaining that discrimination based on stereotypes is circumstantial evidence of discrimination on the basis of a protected category and with circuit precedent telling us that protected categories and characteristics must be immutable. Those two lines of authority, in my opinion, are not mutually exclusive.”


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