Since 2006, the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said you can’t have policies that discriminate based on hair if the policy affects one race more than others, but federal courts don’t agree that hair is a characteristic that is covered under race protections.
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Wisconsin Fair Employment Act, employers can’t use race as a reason to hire or not hire an applicant; however, the law doesn’t offer legal protections for the way someone wears their hair. That means, an employer can explicitly say locks, braids, or twists aren’t not allowed at work. These are all styles that are heat and chemical-free alternatives for Black hair.
Last month, Dane County Board Supervisor Shelia Stubbs announced a proposed ordinance amendment that would extend race-based protection to hair texture and protective styles in Dane County and affiliated workplaces. This change wouldn’t affect private businesses. However, it would hold Dane County–as an employer–to a higher standard.
Stubbs has had her own experience with hair discrimination. She says these experiences were one of the factors that made this ordinance important to her. “I’m a trailblazer and a reformer. And I personally can talk about experiences that I’ve had as an African American woman based on the different jobs I’ve had, the different companies I’ve worked for, the different experiences I’ve had, based on the different styles I would wear my hair or my attire,” she explains. “I have for sure had experiences with my hair where I worked in a culture where the grooming practices were a certain standard. Those grooming practices were for people who were white– that didn’t look like me–and the hair wasn’t the same.”
This is not the first time Stubbs has advocated for protective hairstyles. Stubbs, who is from Madison, is also a State Representative. Last February, she authored a bill that would allow someone to perform natural hair braiding without a cosmetology license.
Stubbs’ proposal is a part of a larger national movement called the CROWN Act. CROWN stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair.
In 2019, Representative LaKeshia Myers, a democrat representing Milwaukee, introduced a CROWN bill. That failed to make it out of the state Assembly in 2020 . So far 7 states and two municipalities have passed CROWN legislation.
Stubbs, who cosponsored that bill, says that her ordinance amendment was inspired by the failed Assembly bill. “I came back and looked at our books and said ‘what do we have for law’ and there was nothing there,” Stubbs says. “It was evident that I needed to create language to make sure that if people choose natural hairstyles–if people choose to have locks or braids or twists–that they are not discriminated against.”
Tomorrow, the ordinance amendment will be heard by the Executive Committee of the Dane County Board. Then, it will need approval by the full board before it’s adopted.
Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/zyZ77eaVU2Q