Don’t Get Twisted Up in Hair Discrimination


On March 4, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia signed into law House Bill 1514. This new law bans discrimination on the basis of physical traits associated with race including “hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks and twists.”

Oscars® Boosting the Fight

Last month, the animated short film “Hair Love,” written and directed by Matthew A. Cherry, earned an Academy Award and highlighted the movement to end discrimination by schools and employers against hairstyles worn by Black people. Mr. Cherry expressed his commitment to getting the CROWN Act passed in all 50 states during his acceptance speech alongside special guest DeAndre Arnold. Arnold made national headlines in January when his public Texas high school suspended him and refused to allow him to participate in graduation because his dreadlocks violated the school’s dress code.

[clear]Don’t Dread the Updated Virginia Human Rights Act Law

The CROWN Act stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” As Arnold’s father shared with CNN, growing dreadlocks and wearing other natural hairstyles are a common part of Black culture. The Virginia law amends the definition of discrimination “because of race” to include:

“traits historically associated with race, including hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists.”

With Governor Northam’s signature, Virginia is the fifth state/jurisdiction to ban hair discrimination, joining California, New York, and New Jersey and the county of Montgomery County (Maryland). After Arnold’s suspension, Texas joined the more than 20 states that are now considering CROWN Act-inspired legislation.

How to Tangle with the New Law?

This law prohibits anti-Black hair discrimination by acknowledging these bans against Black hairstyles perpetuate the racist stereotype that Black hair is unprofessional, unkempt, or disruptive. An example of an act in violation of the amended law is refusing to hire a Black applicant with braids because he or she does not fit the company’s “image” or that it’s a health concern. As a general rule, an employee’s hair texture or style does not impact their ability to perform the essential functions of a job.

Getting Locked In: Effective Date

This law will become effective on July 1, 2020. We recommend editing your employee handbook and training your workforce to address these new changes, with particular focus on the areas of harassment, diversity, inclusion and implicit bias. Contact the Labor & Employment team if you have any questions about your dress code or anti-discrimination policies.

Contact Patice Holland.


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