Michigan bans hairstyle discrimination in workplaces and schools

Jun 15, 2023, 1:12 PM

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The denial of employment or educational opportunities due to discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles, such as Afros, cornrows or dreadlocks, will be prohibited in Michigan under legislation signed Thursday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The new law, known as the Crown Act, will amend the state’s civil rights law to ban discrimination based on hair texture and protective hairstyles within employment, housing, education and places of public accommodation.

State Sen. Sarah Anthony, who first introduced similar legislation in 2019, said at Thursday’s signing in Lansing that for years, she’s heard “the stories of men and women and children who are denied opportunities here in our state,” due to hair discrimination.

“Let’s call it what it is: hair discrimination is nothing more than thinly veiled racial discrimination,” said Anthony, the first Black woman to represent Lansing in the state Senate.

While previous attempts at passing the Crown Act in Michigan failed in the Republican-led Legislature, the legislation was passed this year with bipartisan support with a 100-7 vote in the state House.

Michigan will become the 23rd state to pass a U.S. House passed a bill to prohibit hair discrimination last year but it failed to advance in the U.S. Senate.

Supporters of the law have pointed to a 2019 study by Dove that showed one in five Black women working in office or sales settings have said they had to alter their natural hair. The study also found Black students are far more likely to be suspended for dress code or hair violations.

Marian Scott, a student from Jackson, Michigan, joined lawmakers at Thursday’s signing. In 2019, Scott, then an 8-year-old, was told that she could not take school pictures because her red hair extensions violated school policies.

In 2021, a biracial 7-year-old girl in Michigan had her filed a $1 million lawsuit against the school district, alleging racial discrimination and ethnic intimidation.

Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, said his own daughter just got her hair braided yesterday for the first time, with a heart design in it.

“Imagine when you choose how to present and someone tells you that’s wrong,” Gilchrist said. “What does that do to snuff out the imaginative potential of our young people?”

Michigan Democrats have focused on expanding the state’s civil rights law since they took control this year. The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, created in 1976, was amended twice earlier this year to add protections workers who receive abortions.

The civil rights act prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status and marital status.

Former Republican Rep. Mel Larsen, who helped author the civil rights act alongside Democratic Rep. Daisy Elliott in 1976, said earlier this year at a signing that the “original intent, and the intent still, is that every citizen of Michigan has the right to be protected under the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act.”

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Michigan bans hairstyle discrimination in workplaces and schools