On June 21, 2022, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed into law legislation prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of hairstyles or textures historically associated with race. The CROWN Act (House Bill No. 1083 / Public Act No. 529) (“CROWN” stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”) amends the definition of intentional discrimination in employment under Louisiana law to include any discriminatory practices with respect to any individual’s “compensation, or terms, conditions, or privileges of employment” because of “natural, protective, or cultural hairstyle.” The act adds these characteristics as a subset of discrimination based on race or national origin. “Natural, protective, or cultural hairstyle” is defined to include “afros, dreadlocks, twists, locs, braids, cornrow braids, Bantu knots, curls, and hair styled to protect hair texture or for cultural significance.” The CROWN Act is effective August 1, 2022.
The CROWN Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against individuals on the basis of ethnic traits, such as protective hairstyles (i.e., hairstyle, color, or manner of wearing hair that minimizes manipulation and/or damage of natural hair), in employment, public schools, public accommodations, and housing opportunities. For private employers, the CROWN Act amends the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law and defines the terms “natural, protective, or cultural hairstyle” to include “afros, dreadlocks, twists, locs, braids, cornrow braids, Bantu knots, curls, and hair styled to protect hair texture or for cultural significance.” The act is intended to prohibit discrimination against individuals with hairstyles historically associated with race. However, the law includes any “cultural hairstyle,” which could include hairstyles that are not necessarily associated with a specific race.
The new state law does not address potential conflicts between an applicant’s or employee’s protected hairstyle and an employer’s bona fide safety rules or measures. For example, an employee required to wear safety headgear might be precluded from safely doing so by the employee’s hairstyle, if the hairstyle prevents the headgear from fitting properly.
In the last several years, similar legislation has been enacted in various states and cities, gaining national attention. California first passed its CROWN Act in 2019, which was followed by New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, Maryland, Connecticut, Oregon, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and more than a dozen cities. This year, Louisiana joins Tennessee and Maine in adding hairstyles and hair textures to the roster of characteristics protected under antidiscrimination laws.
Previously, on December 22, 2020, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell signed into law the CROWN Act (Calendar No. 33,184), which prohibits employment discrimination in the city of New Orleans based on hairstyles.
Notably, on March 18, 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 2116) that would make hairstyle discrimination a violation of federal law. A companion bill (S. 888) has been introduced in the U.S. Senate but has not passed to date.
Next Steps for Louisiana Employers
Louisiana employers may want to consider taking proactive steps to manage the requirements of this new law in their workplaces. Some of those steps might include:
- reviewing employee handbooks, antidiscrimination policies, and dress codes or grooming policies for compliance with the CROWN Act;
- reviewing onboarding and interview documents to comply with the new law;
- amending job descriptions or applications to minimize any potential claims of discrimination based on an individual’s hairstyle; and
- providing education and training on the new law for recruiters, managers, and supervisors.
The new state law does not take effect until August 1, 2022, so there is ample time for Louisiana employers to prepare for compliance with the CROWN Act.