By Iris Hentze
Commonly referred to as the CROWN Act, or Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, legislators across the country are considering bills that protect workers, students and others from being discriminated against for common race-based hair traits such as hair texture, hair type and protective hairstyles.
Protective hairstyles are most often defined in these laws to include, but not be limited to, hairstyles such as braids, locs, twists and knots. The legislation adds these hair characteristics to existing civil rights laws in order to protect wearers from discrimination.
In 2019 three states, California, New York and New Jersey, enacted legislation to protect individuals from race-based hair discrimination in the workplace, at school and in other contexts. In 2020, 22 states have considered this type of legislation, with Colorado, Maryland and Virginia enacting their own versions so far this year.
This legislation tends to be similar from state-to-state, but varies in the context. For example, California’s SB 188 which passed in 2019, adds hair texture and protective hairstyles to the state’s statutory definition of “race.”
The bill ensures that existing civil rights laws protecting individuals from discrimination for specified personal characteristics in the workplace, at school and in housing are also able to account for hair. Colorado’s and Maryland’s enacted legislation from this year went a step further and also included “public accommodations” as an additional context in which their anti-hair discrimination laws apply. Virginia’s enacted legislation from this year applies only to schools in the state.
Most of the states where CROWN Act bills were introduced in 2020 considered legislation that would protect from hair discrimination in employment and/or in schools.
Mississippi’s legislation, for example, would protect the wearer of a protective hairstyle from discrimination by an employer, school or school district. Oklahoma’s legislature considered a bill that would have provided protections for employees at work while Missouri’s legislature considered a similar bill that would have afforded protections in schools.
Two different bills were considered in Georgia, one that would have applied to schools and employers and another that would have applied to housing and public accommodations and in Florida, the CROWN Act legislation proposed would have applied to housing. None of these states ultimately ended up passing legislation regarding hair discrimination this year. CROWN Act legislation is still currently under consideration in both Illinois and Massachusetts.
As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to inspire conversations around social justice issues and as policymakers hear more about these issues from constituents, even more states could consider legislation addressing racial discrimination in the workplace and other public places in 2021.
Iris Hentze is a policy specialist in NCSL's Employment, Labor and Retirement Program.