A new law has made it illegal to for employers to discriminate against workers based on their hairstyles. From this point going forward, treating workers differently because of their hair equals racial discrimination in New York City.
Although this type of discrimination is not new, recent complaints made by several workers in the city led to this February 2019 law. It was announced by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, and is aimed to protect people in public places, including school and work.
African-Americans in particular will benefit from the law, as they have been historically targeted for discrimination because of their hairstyles. The Commission stated that restricting hairstyles reinforced racial stereotypes, leading to bias against the African-American community.
Those who violate the law could face $250,000 in penalties, plus additional damages.
Past and Current Discrimination
There is no previous legal precedent for this law. In fact, when the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund asked the United States Supreme Court to review a 2010 case on this same topic, they were turned down. That case involved an African-American woman from Alabama who lost a job offer for refusing to cut her dreadlocks.
More recent complaints were made filed by workers in the Upper East Side and in the Bronx. Another worker employed in Manhattan stated that she receives comments about her hair every day. She added that her manager has suggested that she relax her hair and should not color it either.
People of all ages have experienced hairstyle discrimination. A New Jersey high school student was told that if he did not cut off his dreadlocks, he would be unable to participate in a wrestling match; several years ago, twins in Massachusetts were given detention for wearing their braids in school.
A former African-American intern at a large company shared her story in Forbes. She said that she would usually “mute” her natural hair when interacting in corporate environments, so that it would not be a topic of conversation. This was an issue she dealt with to avoid “being a distraction” for co-workers.
The new law specifies that black individuals can wear their hair as they wish, including Afros, braids, cornrows, and other natural styles. These details were specified because many companies do not currently permit such hairstyles at work. Also, office dress codes may not currently mention hairstyles to avoid, but companies are known to have unwritten laws about them.
These guidelines do not affect safety regulations if an employee’s hair must be worn in a net (restaurant workers and other food handlers, for example) so long as the rules are equally applied to all.
Protected Under the Law
The commissioner and chairwoman of the NYC Commission on Human Rights said that these incidents are based on racist stereotypes relating to appearance. The new laws center on the belief that hairstyles are intrinsic to a person’s race and culture, and are a human right that should be protected under human rights laws.
Red Bank Employment Discrimination Lawyers at McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. are Experienced with Racial Discrimination Cases
Please call our Red Bank office at 732-842-6500, our Marlton office at 856-985-9800, our Newark office at 973-878-9040, or contact us at 888-396-0736 or online for a free consultation. We represent clients throughout New Jersey.