On April 11, 2022, U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Albert Bryan Jr. signed into law Act No. 8553, “The Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act of 2022” or “The Virgin Islands Crown Act of 2022,” which prohibits discrimination based on hair texture or hairstyle.
The act amends the Virgin Islands Civil Rights Act (VICRA), which prohibits discrimination in employment, as well as with respect to public accommodations and with respect to rental transactions, on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin. The act states that “‘[r]ace’ includes traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to hair texture, hair type or and [sic] protective hairstyles.” The act defines the term “[p]rotective hairstyle” as “hair characteristics, hair texture and hairstyles that include but are not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, twists, cornrows, Bantu knots, Afros, and other styles in which the hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled.”
The act expands the VICRA to prohibit the exclusion of any individual “from participation in” or from receiving “the benefits of any program or activity of a college, university, or other postsecondary institution, or a public system of higher education[,] or an elementary or secondary education system or vocational or career technology education, or other school system” based upon race as defined by the act. The act also prohibits discrimination under “any program or activity of any school or educational institution, based on race.” In addition, the act amends Title 17 of the Virgin Islands Code to include a new section that prohibits educational institutions from creating “a dress code or policy that prohibits protective hairstyles from being worn in the school during school hours or school events” and from disciplining a student for wearing a protective hairstyle.
In enacting the Virgin Islands Crown Act of 2022, the Virgin Islands has joined numerous states and cities that have enacted similar laws, including California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, and New Orleans. 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.
Next Steps for Virgin Islands Employers
Virgin Islands employers may want to consider taking the following actions:
- reviewing current policies and practices and updating them as necessary;
- training supervisory and managerial employees, as well as human resources professionals, on the requirements of the law;
- providing training for recruiters and hiring managers to ensure that job applicants are not rated less favorably because of protective hairstyles; and
- updating antidiscrimination and respectful workplace training materials to incorporate awareness of the protections for protective hairstyles.
The St. Thomas office of Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor developments regarding laws that impact the workplace and will post updates on the firm’s U.S. Virgin Islands blog as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar and podcast programs.