Tennessee Legislator Proposes Bill to Prevent Racial Discrimination for Protective Hairstyles

Tennessee Legislator Proposes Bill to Prevent Racial Discrimination for Protective Hairstyles

Tennessee Representative Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) has filed a bill in the state assembly that follows the path taken by New York and California. The bill, HB 1546, is also known as the “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act of 2020.” It proposes measures to prevent racial discrimination for protective hairstyles.

New York and California

The state of New York was actually the second state, following in the train of California, to forbid discrimination based on a person’s hairstyle. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on July 12, 2019 that made changes to the state’s civil rights law, clarifying that “traits historically associated with race,” including protective hairstyles and hair texture are included in its prohibition against racial discrimination. The law includes locks, braids, and twists in these protective hairstyles.

About a week and a half earlier on July 3, 2019, California enacted a similar law as the one just implemented in New York. The California law, referred to as the “Crown Act,” makes changes to the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, adding to the definition of race “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” The California law, as New York’s, defines protective hairstyles as including those such as braids, twists, and locks.

The purpose behind these laws is to address the problem of restrictive grooming and dress codes that prohibit these hairstyles and as a result have a particular discriminatory impact on employees and applicants who are of African American descent.

The Tennessee bill

The proposed bill in Tennessee would prohibit discrimination against any person for his or her protective hairstyle or race. Again, the protective hairstyles in the Tennessee bill include, but are not limited to locks, twists, and braids.

In the bill, race is defined as ethnic background, ethnic group identification, ancestry, and cultural or physical characteristics connected with a particular race, including, but not restricted to protective hairstyles and hair texture.

If the bill passes and is signed into law, it would go into effect on July 1, 2020.

Concerns have existed for quite some time that hair could be a factor involved in racial discrimination against individuals. However, in late 2018, the issue gained attention across the nation when a New Jersey high school student, who was also a wrestler and wore dreadlocks, was told to cut his hair. The reason given by the referee of the match was that his hair was not compliant with league rules. As a result, the state of New Jersey, under the office of the Attorney General’s and its Civil Rights Division conducted an investigation about the incident and the potential for unfairness or bias in high school sports.

The proposed law in Tennessee along with the new laws in California and New York may serve as reminders to employers in those states to check their grooming and dress code policies to ensure none of them have a disparate impact on the protected category of race.

If you have suffered unlawful employment discrimination under federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts, or of other human rights laws in the state of Tennessee, or any other state, we may be able to help you. Call us today at 888.996.9731 to get in touch with Justin Gilbert or Jonathan Bobbitt at The Gilbert Firm, or complete our contact form to arrange a free consultation at one of our offices in Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, Jackson, or Knoxville.



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