Let Your Hair Down: Proposed CROWN Act Seeks to Prohibit Discrimination on the Basis of Traits Associated with Race

by | Apr 13, 2022 | Business and Commercial Law, Employment Law |

For those familiar with the classic Schoolhouse Rock video, “How a Bill Becomes a Law”, you know that legislations journey from bill to law can be full of debate, rejection, acceptance, and requires a lot of patience. This is exactly the case for a piece of federal legislation known as the CROWN Act.

A 2019 study by the beauty brand Dove and the Crown Coalition found that one in five black women working in office or sales settings have said they had to alter their natural hair. The study also found black students are more likely to be suspended for dress code or hair violations. This study, as well as several other documented incidents of school policies having the effect of discriminating against students of color sparked a piece of proposed legislation known as the CROWN Act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.

The CROWN Act seeks to prohibit race discrimination on the basis of longstanding racial and national origin biases and stereotypes associated with hair texture and style in schools, workplaces, housing, federally funded institutions, and equal rights. The purpose of the act is to expand the scope of racial discrimination to include incidences of race and national origin discrimination based upon hair texture and hairstyles that are commonly associated with race or national origin.

Those in favor of the bill contend that natural black hair is often deemed unprofessional because it does not conform to white beauty standards and seek to ensure every black person can style their ‘crown’ as they please. On the other end of the aisle, those opposed to the bill argue that the proposed legislation should not be a congressional priority in times of rising gas prices, high crime rates, and record breaking inflation rates.

A version of the CROWN Act was passed in the House in September of 2020 but did not have the votes necessary to pass in the Senate. The bill was reintroduced in March of 2021 and again passed in the House on March 18, 2022. The bill will next head to the Senate, where the bill has a much stronger chance of becoming law. Currently, the Senate is split 50-50 along party lines with Vice President Harris serving as a tie-breaking vote when needed.

While the CROWN Act is slowly making the journey to becoming law on the federal level, the law has been passed in fourteen states, including California, Washington, Colorado, New York, and Maryland.

As far as Minnesotans are concerned, a similar version of the CROWN Act proposes adding a definition of “race” to the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). Specifically, the bill seeks to expand the scope of the definition of “race” to include “traits associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and hair styles such as braids, locks, and twists.” S.F. No. 1273.

The bill was passed in the House on February 28, 2022. At this point, the bill must still be voted on by the full Senate and signed by Gov. Tim Walz before it becomes law. If the CROWN Act is signed this session it would be implemented July 1, 2022. Until then, the CROWN Act is “only a bill, sitting here on Capitol Hill”.

  • To view the text of the proposed federal bill, click here
  • To view the text of the proposed state bill, click here

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