Partner Milt Williams and associate Derek Borchardt published an article in Law360 exploring new laws prohibiting discrimination against hair textures or styles “historically associated with race.” The laws have already been enacted in New York and California with other states considering similar provisions.
These laws, which are intended to combat prejudicial attitudes towards Black hair, recognize that discrimination against hair textures or styles associated with race — such as locs, braids, twists, or coils — is itself a form of race discrimination. Now, if an employer in New York or California prohibits its employees from having or displaying such hairstyles at the workplace, the employer may be held liable and forced to change its practices.
The article notes that employers should consider updating any anti-bias training as a way to mitigate the risk of liability. Black employees should not be required to modify their natural hair with potentially harmful chemicals or heat, or wear weaves and wigs, to be seen as “professional.”