HAIRSTYLE DISCRIMINATION « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


California Aims to Protect Workers Against Race-Based Natural Hairstyle Bias

Federal, state and local laws have long banned workplace racial discrimination. A recent trend seeks to expand such protections to various race-based traits, particularly certain hairstyles.

Under California’s now-pending Senate Bill (SB 188), workplace dress or grooming policies prohibiting natural hairstyles, including Afros, braids and twists would be unlawful race-based discrimination: “In a society in which hair has historically been one of many determining factors of a person’s race, and whether they were a second class citizen, hair today remains a proxy for race.”

The bill declares that “Eurocentric norms” have historically equated “blackness,” and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority, sometimes subject to separate and unequal treatment. Thus, the bill reasons, “hair discrimination targeting hairstyles associated with race is racial discrimination.”  

New York City has already enacted the first-ever legal enforcement guidance against discrimination on the basis of natural hair and hairstyles that disproportionately impact Black people.

Regardless of whether this initiative becomes actual law in California, employers should consider proactively modifying their dress code policy to eliminate any ban on natural hair or hair styles or requirements to straighten or relax naturally curly hair.

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For additional assistance, please contact one of our attorneys Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

Cindy Bamforth

March 29, 2019