Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, or CROWN Act. The bill would add a new protected classification to federal employment and other discrimination laws, prohibiting employers, schools, and other parties from taking adverse action based on hairstyles associated with persons of a particular race or national origin. The bill’s sponsors noted a number of situations where employers, schools, or other institutions have been accused of enforcing dress codes that limit certain hairstyles, especially those associated with African-American women. For employees, the bill would allow applicants or employees to file charges of discrimination with the EEOC. Some federal courts have held that under Title VII, hairstyles associated with a certain race are beyond the law’s protections.
Twelve states already have their own versions of the CROWN Act in place. The bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate where it is expected to face a Republican filibuster. Even if the CROWN Act does not become law this year, it could serve as a model for other state or municipal governments to adopt similar protective measures.