INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A new state bill proposed by a Los Angeles state senator would update California's anti-discrimination laws so that the definition of "race" would be extended to include traits historically associated with race, including hair texture and protective hairstyles.
The Crown Act, or Senate Bill 188, would, if passed, make discrimination against natural hairstyles illegal at work and school.
State Senator Holly Mitchell (D-30), who has worn locks for 15 years, says the bill will add natural hairstyles to the list of protected classes.
“We are amending the code sections around protected class,” Senator Mitchell said. “Race, age, gender, sexual orientation are protected classes in the work place. You cannot be not hired or terminated because of your age, gender or religion. We are adding natural hair styles to the list of items that are protected classes in the code sections dealing with fair housing and employment.”
Her constituent Morrie Jacks of Inglewood says her hair has created a glass ceiling in her professional past. She says she’s been judged in different work settings over the years because of her hair.
“I’m looked at as a non-conformist or I’m looked at as 'she’s not going to be a team player,'” Jacks said. “I’ve had all kind of things said---'she probably has a rebellious attitude,' or 'she has that angry black woman’s hair.'”
Jacks is a realtor, a job that makes representing herself as important as representing her clients. She says she hasn’t been discriminated against at her current job, but in the past, her hairstyle stopped her from getting roles. She almost became an officer in the military, but was told she’d have to change her hair.
“My hair was spoken of at that particular time as not being code for the military just as I’ve been told with other companies,” Jacks said. She said she’s been told “we love you, we like to hire you so forth and so on but your hair style is too urban or not professional enough or you don’t meet the culture.”
Hairstyle bias has been studied nationally. The Perception Institute conducted the “Good Hair” study in which they sampled over 4,000 women and men from across the country. The study found the majority of participants, regardless of race, show implicit bias against black women’s textured hair.
Additionally, one in five black women feel social pressure to straighten their hair for work — twice as many as white women.
Hair bias has been argued in court cases across the country. In Alabama, a woman sued an insurance company with help from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after being told by an HR manager that her dreadlocks would not be acceptable.
She lost her federal lawsuit and appeal.
The appeals court ruled “Title VII prohibits discrimination based on immutable traits, and the proposed amended complaint does not assert that dreadlocks—though culturally associated with race—are an immutable characteristic of black persons.”
The Crown Act has been approved by the State Senate. Now it will be reviewed by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.