Montgomery County Becomes First County to Pass Race-Based Hair Discrimination Legislation

Employers Should Review Existing Policies and Guidelines to Ensure Compliance

Montgomery County is the first county in the country to pass legislation prohibiting race-based hair discrimination after the County Council unanimously approved the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. 

Employers in Montgomery County were already prohibited from discriminating against employees based on race, but the CROWN Act expands the definition of race to include “immutable traits associated with race, including hair texture and protective hairstyles.” This means that Montgomery County employers now cannot discriminate against employees in regard to hiring, firing, promotion, or other conditions of employment on the basis of their natural characteristics of hair style or texture, including, but not limited to, braids, locks, afros, curls, and twists. The CROWN Act allows those who face discrimination to seek a civil penalty of up to $5,000.

According to its sponsor, the CROWN Act was passed to protect and reaffirm the rights of the county’s minority individuals, and to combat incidents in which employers pressured employees to conform their natural hair to Eurocentric standards of beauty. While the CROWN Act is not gender specific, meaning it safeguards all people, its sponsors and supporters, believe that women are more likely to face workplace discrimination on the basis of their hair style or texture.

Montgomery County joins California and New York as the only jurisdictions so far to pass legislation prohibiting race-based hair discrimination, although several other states have proposed similar legislation to combat this type of discrimination. The CROWN Act is part of the Montgomery County Council’s larger efforts to address and curb racial inequality, with a vote on the Racial Equity and Social Justice Act happening later this month.

In the short term, employers in Montgomery County that have grooming or other policies preventing or limiting certain “unprofessional” or “extreme” hairstyles should review them with experienced employment counsel for compliance with the new CROWN Act. And, all employers should carefully review their existing policies and guidelines, as well as any other similar documents or agreements, in order to make appropriate modifications to address any unintended discriminatory practices and biases.