Maryland Bans Workplace Hair Discrimination

Employers in Maryland state are now banned from discrimination based on hair types, textures, and styles.

Maryland Bans Workplace Hair Discrimination
Maryland joins 6 other states in passing laws to ban natural hair discrimination

Discrimination based on hair texture and type, and hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists will be illegal in Maryland. The ban will be effective starting October 1, 2020.

Maryland’s legislature approved a bill in March that under state laws banning discrimination, the definition of race includes certain traits associated with race — such as hair texture and certain hairstyles. The bill also defines a “protective hairstyle” as a hairstyle including braids, twists, and locks.

Discrimination based on race is prohibited under several Maryland laws, including those prohibiting discrimination in:

  • Employment
  • Housing
  • Places of public accommodation

However, the laws do not specify a definition for race.

The measure became law without Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature, and the move makes Maryland the 7th state to enact such a law.

Background

The Maryland state senator who sponsored the bill introduced the legislation after learning about an Alabama woman’s story. Chastity Jones wore her hair in “locs” to a job interview with a customer service company.  An HR manager told Jones her hair violated the company’s grooming policy, and after Jones refused to agree to cut her hair, the manager rescinded a job offer.

Jones sued, but a federal court ruled that her hairstyle did not have protection under discrimination laws. The United States Supreme Court refused to hear the lawsuit. This was a decision that has helped to fuel the movement to ban hair-related discrimination, according to the Washington Post.

Months later, a viral video of a Black high school wrestler who was forced to cut his long dreadlocks just before a meet also added to the movement.

“Pervasive discrimination against natural hair also remains a significant barrier to the professional advancement of people of color, especially Black women,” according to a statement from Democratic Sen. Cory Booker.

Booker’s office said that a recent study found that Black women are 50% more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair, and 80% of Black women believe they have to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office. The same study found that people are 3 times more likely to perceive Black women’s hair as unprofessional.

A recent study found that Black women are 50% more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair, and 80% of Black women believe they have to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office.

CROWN ACT law measures in other jurisdictions

People also refer to anti-hair discrimination state laws as CROWN Acts. CROWN Act stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act.”

Several states already have such laws. California became the first state to enact a CROWN Act in July 2019 and it went into effect in January 2020. The Golden State law bans employer policies that discriminate against those with natural hair, defining discrimination against hairstyles which are “historically associated with race” as a type of racial discrimination. New York and New Jersey soon followed and Virginia became the 4th state to pass such legislation in March 2020 that went into effect in July 2020. Colorado and Washington State also have CROWN Act laws in place.

Several other states are considering hair discrimination bills, according to the Crown Coalition.

Some localities have also grappled with the issue of hair discrimination. Montgomery County in Maryland approved similar legislation earlier this year, becoming the first county in the U.S. to ban discrimination based on hairstyles such as braids, locs, afros, curls, and twists.

Capitol Hill lawmakers are considering similar legislation. Sen. Booker introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate in January 2020 that would ban discrimination on hair that people commonly associate with a particular race. The Senate version of the bill has been in the Judiciary Committee since January 8. The version of the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives has been in the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties since January 30.

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