Cincinnati Is Latest City to Outlaw Hair Discrimination
Cincinnati, Ohio has joined a small but growing list of states and municipalities that ban discrimination on the basis of natural hair styles. On Oct. 9, 2019, the Cincinnati City Council voted 7-1 to add a hair-bias ban to the city’s existing non-discrimination law.
The new law, intended to eliminate discrimination based on “negative, lingering cultural biases that frequently favor hair styles and hair types that more closely resemble Eurocentric hair types and hair styles,” prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because of hair styles associated with race, such as dreadlocks, twists, and braids. Councilmembers passed the law on the belief employee appearance and grooming policies may have a disproportionately negative impact on minority employees, particularly women of color.
Currently, it is unclear whether Title VII—the federal law that bans race discrimination—covers discrimination based on hair styles associated with race. While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has concluded hair discrimination is prohibited by Title VII, federal courts have mostly arrived at the opposite conclusion. As a result, state and local governments have begun to pass laws that expressly ban discrimination based on hair styles.
Cincinnati joins New York City as the only U.S. cities to pass such a law. California and New York have also passed state statutes banning hair discrimination, while lawmakers in Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, and Wisconsin have proposed similar legislation.
Because of this recent trend of hair-bias laws, employers should reevaluate their employee appearance and grooming policies. While most employers likely have race-neutral policies, they may need to reevaluate how their policies are interpreted and enforced. Outright bans on specific hairstyles, such as dreadlocks and braids, will certainly violate these new laws. Additionally, employers whose policies ban “extreme” or “unprofessional” hair styles may need to examine whether such ambiguous policies are enforced more against one race than others.
To ensure compliance with recent hair discrimination laws and all other non-discrimination laws, please contact your Dinsmore attorney.
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