All’s Fair for Hair – SB 188 to Outlaw Discrimination Against Black Hairstyles

The Senate Judiciary Committee today on a 7-0 vote passed a bill by Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, to end a centuries-long history of racial discrimination based on hairstyles.

Senate Bill 188 amends the Fair Employment and Housing Act to prohibit employers from enforcing purportedly “race neutral” grooming policies that disproportionately impact persons of color.

While federal anti-discrimination laws explicitly defend the choice to wear an afro, they are silent with regard to braids, locs, and twists, known collectively as “protective hairstyles,” and commonly worn by Black women and men.

“We are not talking about rainbow-colored tresses or pink mohawks,” Mitchell said during the hearing. “We are speaking of groomed hairstyles like my locs, that would, without question, fit an image of professionalism, if bias or negative stereotypes of Black people were not involved. These purportedly “race-neutral” workplace grooming policies that ban braids, twists, cornrows, or locs may apply to employees or applicants of all races, however they have a disparate impact on Black men and women.

“This means that these policies are far more likely to exclude Black individuals from the workplace than people of any other race.”

SB 188 is the first of a multi-state campaign to safeguard persons wearing protective hairstyles from workplace discrimination. It is sponsored by The CROWN Coalition, a national alliance comprised of the National Urban League, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Color Of Change and Dove.

This nationwide effort comes following the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court refusal to hear a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Catastrophe Management Solutions (CMS) alleging racial discrimination based on hair. EEOC filed the lawsuit on behalf of Chastity Jones, a Black woman who was forced to forfeit her job offer with CMS because she refused to cut off her locks.

The EEOC initially brought the lawsuit to the federal district court in Alabama in 2014, claiming that “prohibition of dreadlocks in the workplace constitutes race discrimination because dreadlocks are a manner of wearing the hair that is physiologically and culturally associated with people of African descent.” The district court dismissed the lawsuit.

Upon appeal, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Jones, asserting that “dreadlocks are not … an immutable characteristic of black individuals.” The Supreme Court, in refusing to rehear the case, upheld the Circuit Court’s decision.

SB 188 corrects these deep misunderstandings of ethnic hair by amending section 12926 of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act to read as follows: “Race is inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”

The ACLU supports the bill, concurring that hair discrimination is “rooted in a legacy of race and gender bias, [and] remains a harmful practice with serious economic and health consequences, particularly for Black women in employment settings.”

The California Black Chamber of Commerce praises SB 188 as legislation that improves “access to economic opportunities for African American businesses and the communities in which their employees work, live, and play.”

Protecting hair texture and protective hairstyles under race will prohibit an employer from withholding or terminating employment or promotion based on discrimination against the protected employee’s or applicant’s hairstyle.

The CROWN Coalition is dedicated to the advancement of anti-discrimination legislation across the United States, starting with California. The Coalition and its members believe that diversity and inclusion are key drivers of success across all industries and sectors.

SB 188 is the first in a package of new bills Mitchell will be introducing aimed at #EcomonicEquity and #HealthEquity.

SB 188 will next be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee. A hearing date is pending.

Ray Sotero 

The Actors' Gang

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