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DON'T TOUCH MY HAIR, Discrimination Due to Hairstyle (Braids, Locks, and Twists) at Work
Historically, societal perceptions have labelled physical traits such as curly or tightly coiled hair as having an innate connection to races and ethnicities deemed inferior and subjected to separate and unequal treatment. Concepts of what constituted respectability, professionalism, presentability, and standards of beauty were linked to Eurocentric features and appearances. Individuals whose racial backgrounds diverged from that misguided and racist European ideal would have to alter innate aspects of their appearance (through means that might be expensive, time consuming, uncomfortable, irreversible, or involve toxic chemicals, e.g. hours spent at the beauty salon to conform to Eurocentric standards) to move into higher-paying or decision-making job positions previous restricted mainly to men from European backgrounds.
Hair traits have remained a defining characteristic used to signal out certain groups of people as inferior. Many employers enforced workplace dress codes and grooming policies that prohibited the natural presentation of hair belonging to certain groups of people in the form of afros or hairstyles associated with hair texture such as braids. These policies deterred individuals from certain racial backgrounds from applying for specific jobs they might otherwise be qualified for and burdened or punished these individuals by forcing them to alter their natural appearance just to get a job. Thus, discrimination based on characteristics of hair prevalent in certain racial groups is in fact race discrimination. Policies in the workplace, no matter how race neutral they purport to be, which impose a Eurocentric ideal of respectability, professionalism, presentability, and standard of beauty on workers prevent equal opportunity for all. These workplace policies disfavor hairstyles associated with certain groups of people, deprive employees of or force employees to change fundamental aspects of their racial identity, and perpetuate racial stereotypes that certain groups of people are less professional, worthy, or valued.
By enacting the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair or “Crown” Act, California became the first state to ban discrimination in the workplace based on natural hair. While historically hairstyles such as afros, braids, twists, and dreadlocks are most strongly associated with Black people, who when wearing such hairstyles are disproportionately likely to face discrimination, the law protects all workers who wear these hairstyles regardless of race or ethnicity. Employers may still require workers to secure their hair for genuine hygienic or safety reasons so long as the rules are non-discriminatory and are applied uniformly regardless of race or ethnicity.
Has your employer discriminated against you because of your hairstyle? Has your employer fired you because of your hairstyle? If so, you should consult the experienced employment lawyers at the Kokozian Law Firm concerning your right to wear the hairstyle of your choice as an employee.FEHA Protects an Employee Against Retaliation From an Employer, Labor Organization, Employment Agency, or Person Based on Hairstyle or Texture
Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), it is unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire; to discharge or to terminate; to refuse to select or to bar or discharge an employee from a training program leading to employment; or to discriminate against the person in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of the employee's race or color. California Government Code § 12940(a). “’Race’ is inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including hair texture and protective hairstyles.” “’Protective hairstyles’ includes, but is not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.” California Government Code § 12926(w)(x). These are hairstyles designed to keep hair (which may be more fragile and suspectable to breakage than hair in other populations) healthy and encourage hair growth by cloaking hair ends and reducing the frequency and amount of hair that must be manipulated to maintain the style. These hairstyles do not inherently reflect less professionalism or commitment to a strong work ethic or any other workplace attribute. These hairstyles are merely hairstyles, they do not correlate with how a worker conducts themselves in the workplace or their ability to perform a task. Hair has no place in the assessment of performance or conduct in the workplace. Employees should not have to pay an “inclusion tax” and sacrifice healthy hair to conform to outdated and discriminatory perceptions of what constitutes a professional image.
California Education Code § 212.1 has also been amended to provide similar protections against race discrimination to California students.
As an example of race discrimination based on hair, a woman works as an executive assistant at a medium-sized corporation. Whenever she wears her hair naturally curly or in braids, the President of the company comments that her appearance is unacceptable and is generally curt and dismissive of her. On one occasion he asks whether she went to a braid party over the weekend and commented that “you don’t look like you belong here.” Human Resources later emails her the company’s formal grooming policy, which prohibits “messy,” “unclean,” “political,” or “unprofessional” hair. When she begins to wear her hair straight, the Present of the company comments that “you look good today, keep it up.” These comments and actions make the employee so uncomfortable that she eventually cannot face going to work anymore and she quits her job.Contact Us
If you have experienced race discrimination at your workplace because of your hairstyle, contact the leading race discrimination lawyers at Kokozian Law Firm, APC. Ask about our free initial consultation.