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BY: Tad T. Roumayah | IN: Employment Law
“Hairstyle” may not be a protected class under federal workplace anti-discrimination laws, but employment discrimination against individuals because of their hair’s appearance is a common problem, especially for African-American women. Now, one Michigan county is leading the way to address these prejudices, recently passing a resolution that bans hair discrimination against public employees.
The Ingham County Board of Commissioners approved the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act resolution on March 23, 2021, adding to the county’s equal opportunity employment policies under the section banning racial discrimination.
While the Ingham County resolution only prohibits hair discrimination against public employees in the county, it was modeled on proposed statewide legislation that would amend Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to ban race-based hair discrimination in all workplaces across Michigan as well as in public schools. Specifically, the pending CROWN Act would define “race” for purposes of the state’s anti-discrimination law to be “inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles,” which include “such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.”
Both the statewide CROWN Act and the Ingham County resolution are part of a building wave of nationwide efforts to raise awareness of and prohibit discrimination often faced by women (and some men) who wear hairstyles traditionally associated with African-Americans. At this time, seven states have banned hair discrimination, while municipalities in places like Wisconsin, New Mexico, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, and Ohio have passed local ordinances doing the same.
These bans follow in the footsteps of a widely publicized 2019 report by Dove that found Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair and that:
“Black people are disproportionately burdened by policies and practices in public places, including the workplace, that target, profile, or single them out for natural hairstyles – referring to the texture of hair that is not permed, dyed, relaxed, or chemically altered.”
Michigan’s proposed statewide CROWN Act is waiting for review by the House Judiciary Committee. Any changes to the pending bill in committee will be reintroduced in the House for a vote, after which it would then proceed to the state Senate. If the bill passes the state Senate, it will head to Gov. Whitmer for signature, though she has not yet indicated her position on the legislation.
When employers violate the law and engage in prohibited discrimination against hard-working Michiganders, Sommers Schwartz holds them accountable and gets justice and compensation for our affected clients.
If you feel you have been a victim of workplace discrimination, the lawyers in the Sommers Schwartz Employment Litigation Group would be happy to discuss your situation. Please contact us to speak with one of our employment law attorneys today.
View all posts byTad T. Roumayah
Tad Roumayah focuses his practice primarily on employment litigation, representing employees who have encountered discrimination, retaliation, wrongful discharge, whistleblower protection claims, wage and hour violations and other employment issues and disputes.