Bloomberg Law
Aug. 1, 2022, 9:35 AM

Black Hair Bias Laws Spread, Including in Handful of Red States

Chris Marr
Chris Marr
Staff Correspondent

The days of employers treating Black hairstyles and textures as unprofessional could be coming to an end, as laws banning race-related hair discrimination spread rapidly among states and a federal proposal awaits Senate action.

Massachusetts became the latest state to enact a version of the CROWN Act with Gov. Charlie Baker’s (R) signature on July 26. California and New York first passed the measure only three years ago, and now 18 states have adopted it or similar bans on hair bias, with another awaiting the Alaska governor’s signature. Recent adopters include Louisiana, where the state’s newly expanded bias law takes effect Aug. 1.

“It truly is a game changer for Black women and folks who have natural hair all throughout our commonwealth,” State Rep. Brandy Fluker Oakley (D), a cosponsor of the Massachusetts measure, said at the bill signing ceremony. As a Black woman, she has felt pressure to spend substantial time and money changing her hair to be accepted as a public school teacher, law student, and then lawyer, Oakley said.

More than 40% of the US population now lives in states that ban discrimination against hairstyles and textures historically affiliated with race—and that’s not counting a few dozen cities and counties with local versions of the law.

Like many of its counterparts around the country, the Massachusetts law expands the state’s definition of race discrimination to cover some hairstyles and textures. The expanded bias law applies to employment, housing, public accommodations, and public school discrimination. It specifically protects braids, locks, twists, Bantu knots, and hair coverings, and other race-related styles and textures.

The US House passed a national version of the CROWN Act in March, but the bill hasn’t been considered in the Senate.

Employer Impact

State hair bias laws create the potential for more discrimination claims against employers, said Josh Nadreau, an employment lawyer with Fisher & Phillips LLP in Boston. The biggest impact might be for businesses employing people in public-facing jobs such as retail and hospitality, he added.

“Employers are really going to have to look at their dress code policies” to be sure they aren’t defining race-related hairstyles and textures as unacceptable, Nadreau said. They also need to train their front-line managers who make hiring, firing, and discipline decisions.

Businesses also should take note that the new Massachusetts law doesn’t bar all forms of hair restrictions in a company dress code, only those with a connection to race, he said.

“This does not mean you have to hire the person with blue hair or something that’s not associated with race,” Nadreau said.

LISTEN: An episode of Black Lawyers Speak on the unique experiences of African American women law partners.

Hints of Bipartisan Support

State legislatures with Democratic majorities have adopted most of the race-related hair bias laws—including Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, and Washington state.

But there are glimmers of hope for the CROWN Act getting Republican support as well.

GOP-majority legislatures in Alaska, Louisiana, Nebraska, and Tennessee have adopted versions of the measure, albeit some of them with narrower worker protections. The Alaska bill that’s awaiting transmittal to the governor doesn’t apply to workplace bias, only discrimination against public school students. The Tennessee law enacted this year limits the recourse for hair-related workplace discrimination, allowing employees only to file a complaint with the state labor commissioner who can issue a warning to the employer.

“It was tough trying to get this law passed in this red state,” said Louisiana state Rep. Candace Newell (D), who sponsored the measure that passed there in June. “I went through and I changed the language. I had a lot of one-on-one conversations with my colleagues.”

She ultimately persuaded more than enough of her peers to support the discrimination ban. It passed 74-24 in the House and 29-4 in the Senate.

But plenty of Republican lawmakers aren’t yet on board. Similar legislation has been introduced and failed to advance in more than 25 states, many of them with GOP-led legislatures.

When the US House passed the federal bill in March, Republicans provided only 14 of the 235 “yes” votes.

And Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) vetoed the CROWN Act when state legislators first passed it in 2020, citing concerns about protecting hairstyles such as braids and locks within the category of racial discrimination, when those styles could be worn by anyone of any race. Anti-discrimination laws traditionally have protected a person’s immutable characteristics.

“While I agree with the goal, I object to the form of the bill,” he wrote in his August 2020 veto letter. “It needs to add protections for employees based upon their immutable hair texture and to also add protections for employers centered on health and safety standards.”

State lawmakers passed a revised version of the bill in 2021, and Ricketts signed it into law.

Job Reviews, ‘Personal Attacks’

The new Louisiana law, like a number of other states, allows employers to impose hair restrictions related to health and safety, Newell said. For example, employers could require an employee to tie back their locks or cover their hair at work, but not require them to cut it off or use chemicals to straighten it, she said.

But the law prevents employers from punishing Black hairstyles purely because they don’t like the appearance.

Newell cited the example of a Black hotel desk clerk she met over the July 4th weekend. The clerk told Newell she had received excellent performance reviews for her work quality and customer interactions, but got low marks from her manager for her appearance because she wore her hair in its natural texture.

Twin sisters Deanna and Mya Cook, who also attended the Massachusetts bill signing, helped inspire the state’s legislation following reports they were punished at school in 2017 for wearing their hair in box braids. School officials gave them detention and barred them from activities, including track and field meets and prom.

“It really is a personal attack” to be told your hair is unacceptable at school, Deanna Cook told reporters at the livestreamed ceremony. “And to know that can no longer happen in the state of Massachusetts is such a win.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Marr in Atlanta at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Genevieve Douglas at; Laura D. Francis at