Illinois, Massachusetts, Miami Beach Employers Face Hair Discrimination Bans

The states of Illinois and Massachusetts and the city of Miami Beach have approved their own versions of the CROWN Act.

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Illinois, Massachusetts, Miami Beach Employers Face Hair Discrimination Bans

Here's what you need to know:

  • CROWN stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair
  • CROWN Act laws ban bias based on hairstyles and hair characteristics commonly associated with race
  • The Illinois CROWN Act goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, and the Massachusetts CROWN Act went into effect in October 2022
  • Miami Beach City lawmakers also banned hair discrimination in October 2022
  • Approximately 18 states now have CROWN Act laws
  • Employers should take a look at their grooming and appearance policies and rescind restrictions based on hairstyles unless the limitations are supported by legitimate safety concerns

A few years into the movement to outlaw discrimination based on hair texture and styles, the states of Illinois and Massachusetts and the city of Miami Beach have approved their own versions of the CROWN Act.

CROWN stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. CROWN Act laws ban bias based on hairstyles and hair characteristics commonly associated with race.

Illinois CROWN Act

The Illinois CROWN Act goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2023. The law expands the definition of race under the state’s Human Rights Act to include traits associated with race. Those characteristics include hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, and twists.

Lawmakers banned hairstyle discrimination in Illinois schools in 2021. The CROWN Act expands those protections to include employment, housing, financial transactions, and public accommodations.

Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker signed the CROWN Act into law in June 2022.

Massachusetts CROWN Act

The Massachusetts CROWN Act went into effect in October 2022.

The Massachusetts law forbids discrimination “based on hair texture, hair type, and hairstyles.”

The law protects “natural and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, twists, Bantu knots, and other formations.”

Under the new law, Massachusetts employers cannot take adverse employment action against any applicant or employee based on their natural or protective hairstyle.

Under the new law, Massachusetts employers cannot take adverse employment action against any applicant or employee based on their natural or protective hairstyle.

The law sailed through the state legislature. Both chambers of the state’s legislature unanimously approved the measure. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed the bill into law in July 2022.

An incident in 2017 in which 2 African American teenage sisters at a Massachusetts charter school were disciplined for wearing braided hair extensions sparked the Massachusetts law. The dress code in effect at the school at the time specifically prohibited braids.

Miami Beach CROWN Act

Miami Beach City lawmakers also banned hair discrimination in October 2022. According to an Oct. 26 news release, hair discrimination in Miami Beach is banned when an individual is seeking employment, housing, public services, funding, or use of facilities across the city.

The new ordinance applies in cases where a hairstyle or hair texture is commonly associated with a particular race or national origin. The statute specifically mentions hairstyles “in which hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled, locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, and Afros.”

The vote by the city commission was unanimous.

Discrimination based on a number of other factors, including age, disability, height, gender identity, labor organization membership, marital status, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, and weight was already banned under the city’s human rights law. The commissioner’s vote expands those protections.

There is a health and safety exception. Employers who determine that an employee’s hairstyle would prevent the worker from wearing health or safety equipment or impair the employee’s ability to “safely engage” in a job do not have to comply.

Another Florida municipality also bans hair discrimination. Broward County, Florida commissioners voted to include braids, Bantu knots, and head wraps in the county’s protective classifications in 2020, thus prohibiting discrimination based on hairstyle.

On the state level, Florida state legislators introduced a bill to ban hair discrimination at schools and in the workplace in 2022. The bill failed for the third time. The measure’s supporters, however, say they will introduce the bill again in the 2023 legislative session.

Cities and states approve CROWN Act laws

Approximately 18 states now have CROWN Act laws. Similar laws are under consideration in almost all of the remaining states except for a handful such as Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.

Cities have also been busy embracing anti-hair discrimination laws. About 40 cities have approved CROWN Act laws.

Federal action that has been taken on the issue

Federal action on the issue hasn’t been as strong as that undertaken by many of the nation’s cities and states. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a version of the CROWN Act in March 2022.

The 2022 vote was the second time that the bill received an approving nod from the House. However, the proposal stalled in the U.S. Senate.

The White House supports measures that prohibit hairstyle discrimination. The Biden administration has indicated its approval of the CROWN Act.

The White House issued a statement in 2022 saying that it “strongly” supported the proposed legislation. President Biden also said that he will sign the federal bill into law if it reaches his desk.

However, the federal CROWN Act has its critics. According to CNN, Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan has indicated that federal legislators should be dealing with other matters.

Courts have been asked to weigh in on the allegations

While state and federal lawmakers grapple with the issue, courts have also been asked to adjudicate allegations of hair discrimination. The judicial tribunals have been reluctant to expand the meaning of “race” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include hair texture and style.

Title VII forbids workplace discrimination on the basis of race and national origin, among other legally protected characteristics.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit in 2013. It was against an Alabama company that rescinded a job offer to a woman because of her dreadlocks. The company said the hairstyle violated its grooming policy.

A federal trial court dismissed the EEOC’s claim. The court ruled that because you can change a hairstyle, it is not an immutable characteristic that the federal law protects.

A federal appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision. The appellate court said Title VII protects individuals in covered categories when immutable characteristics such as skin color are at issue, but not their cultural practices. The Supreme Court declined to take the case.

The CROWN Act campaign

The push for CROWN Act laws stems from a coalition founded by beauty brand Dove, the National Urban League, the Western Center on Law and Poverty, and others.

Black women are 50% more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair, according to a 2019 research study by Dove. The study also found that 80% of Black women believe they must change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office.

A widely reported incident in 2019 also focused attention on how hairstyles associated with race and national origin are perceived by others. A New Jersey high school wrestler had his dreadlocks cut off shortly before a match. The athlete was told that the match would be forfeited if he attempted to participate while wearing the hairstyle.

CROWN Act laws are gaining in popularity

CROWN Act laws are gaining in popularity. Employers located in cities and states with CROWN Acts, or who have employees working in such jurisdictions, should review their policies and employee handbooks for compliance.

Employers should take a look at their grooming and appearance policies. They should rescind restrictions based on hairstyles unless the limitations are supported by legitimate safety concerns.

In general, employers can mandate grooming and dress standards for safety reasons.

Employers should also consider training managers and supervisors on the requirements of relevant CROWN Act laws. That way, they can make sure they understand how to comply.

Employers in jurisdictions that don’t have CROWN Act laws might want to consider adopting policies in line with nearby CROWN Acts. Then, they can get ahead of the possibility that such a law might be approved in their city or state.

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