Louisiana Joins States Prohibiting Hairstyle Discrimination

By Andrew P. Burnside, Ellen C. Rains, and Sara Grace Sirera © Ogletree Deakins July 7, 2022
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​On June 21, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed legislation prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of hairstyles or textures historically associated with race.

The CROWN Act, which stands for "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair," amends the definition of intentional discrimination in employment under Louisiana law to include any discriminatory practices with respect to any individual's compensation or terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of "natural, protective, or cultural hairstyle."

The law adds these characteristics as a subset of discrimination based on race or national origin.

Natural, protective, or cultural hairstyle is defined to include "afros, dreadlocks, twists, locs, braids, cornrow braids, Bantu knots, curls, and hair styled to protect hair texture or for cultural significance." The law will take effect Aug. 1.

The CROWN Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against individuals on the basis of ethnic traits, such as protective hairstyles (i.e., hairstyle, color, or manner of wearing hair that minimizes manipulation and/or damage of natural hair) in employment, public schools, public accommodations, and housing opportunities.

For private employers, the CROWN Act amends the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law and defines the terms "natural, protective, or cultural hairstyle" to include "afros, dreadlocks, twists, locs, braids, cornrow braids, Bantu knots, curls, and hair styled to protect hair texture or for cultural significance."

The law is intended to prohibit discrimination against individuals with hairstyles historically associated with race. However, the law includes any "cultural hairstyle," which could include hairstyles that are not necessarily associated with a specific race.

The new state law does not address potential conflicts between an applicant's or employee's protected hairstyle and an employer's bona fide safety rules or measures. For example, an employee required to wear safety headgear might be precluded from safely doing so by the employee's hairstyle, if the hairstyle prevents the headgear from fitting properly.

In the last several years, similar legislation has been enacted in various states and cities, gaining national attention. California first passed its CROWN Act in 2019, which was followed by New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, Maryland, Connecticut, Oregon, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and more than a dozen cities.

This year, Louisiana joins Tennessee and Maine in adding hairstyles and hair textures to the roster of characteristics protected under antidiscrimination laws.

Previously, on Dec. 22, 2020, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell signed into law the CROWN Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on hairstyles in New Orleans.

Notably, on March 18, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 2116) that would make hairstyle discrimination a violation of federal law. A companion bill (S. 888) has been introduced in the U.S. Senate, but has not passed to date.

Next Steps for Louisiana Employers

Louisiana employers may want to consider taking proactive steps to manage the requirements of this new law in their workplaces. Some of those steps might include:

  • reviewing employee handbooks, antidiscrimination policies, dress codes or grooming policies for compliance with the CROWN Act;
  • reviewing onboarding and interview documents to comply with the new law;
  • amending job descriptions or applications to minimize any potential claims of discrimination based on an individual's hairstyle; and
  • providing education and training on the new law for recruiters, managers, and supervisors.

The new state law does not take effect until Aug. 1, so there is ample time for Louisiana employers to prepare for compliance with the CROWN Act.

Andrew P. Burnside, Ellen C. Rains and Sara Grace Sirera are attorneys with Ogletree Deakins in New Orleans. ©2022. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. 

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