The Coalition Fighting “Hair Discrimination” in the Workplace

The CROWN Coalition is backing proposed anti-discrimination legislation in California that would prevent workplace hair-grooming rules that often ban styles that black women prefer.

A measure pending in the California legislature puts its focus squarely on a workplace issue that has gained increasing attention in recent months: hair discrimination.

This week, a group called the CROWN Coalition—an alliance that includes the National Urban League, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Color of Change, and Dove—announced its support of the state’s Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), would prohibit employers from implementing grooming rules for hair that the coalition says disproportionately affect black women.

“While anti-discrimination laws presently protect the choice to wear an afro, afros are not the only natural presentation of black hair,” Mitchell said in a news release. “My bill will help ensure protection against discrimination based on hairstyles by specifying in government code that the protected class of race also includes traits historically associated with race identification, such as hair texture and hairstyles.”

According to a fact sheet [PDF] released by Mitchell’s office, workplace policies that require so-called race-neutral hairstyles enforce “an image of professionalism that was created with European features…. More often than not, black employees choose to conform to the ‘professional image’ at the expense of healthy hair. Those who don’t, choosing healthy hair, are often punished to the extent of termination.”

The measure targets an issue that has gained increased attention, thanks in part to a viral news story.

Earlier this year, news anchor Brittany Noble Jones went public with a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against her former employer, a Jackson, Mississippi, television station. Among other grievances, she said that after she started wearing her hair in a natural style to avoid damage, she was told that the style was “unprofessional” and was later fired after filing the EEOC complaint.

Noble Jones first posted her story on Medium in January, and other media outlets quickly picked it up.

“I wasn’t surprised that my [news director] wanted me to change my hair ‘back to the way it was because that’s what looked best,’” Noble Jones told Today. “He hired me with the fake hair. I’m sure he didn’t know what I went through every day to achieve the style, but I knew what I was getting into when I signed a contract with WJTV. TV news contracts are similar no matter where you work.”

Mitchell’s bill has gained significant support. Backers include trade unions such as the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; civil liberties groups such as ACLU California; and several associations, including the California Employment Lawyers Association and the California Black Chamber of Commerce.

The CROWN Coalition says it plans to pursue legislation similar to the California measure in other states.

(NoSystem images/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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