NATURAL HAIR DISCRIMINATION

Frequently Asked Questions

For decades, LDF has recognized natural hair discrimination as racism by another name. Through advocacy and litigation, LDF has worked to end race-based hair discrimination.

What is Hair Discrimination? Hair discrimination is rooted in systemic racism, and often helps preserve white spaces. Policies that further hair  discrimination advance white Anglo-Saxon Protestant cultural norms as the default norms to which everyone should adhere. Hair and grooming policies that prohibit natural hairstyles — like afros, braids, bantu knots, and locs — have been used to justify the removal of Black children from classrooms and Black adults from their employment. With no nationwide legal protections against hair discrimination, Black people are often left to risk facing consequences at school or work for their natural hair or invest time and money to conform to Eurocentric professionalism and beauty standards.

No one should be targeted for being who they are. The criminalization of Black hairstyles must end. Together with the CROWN Coalition, LDF is fighting to end hair discrimination and push for The CROWN Act to become law prohibiting hair discrimination in all 50 states.

We’ve compiled a list of FAQs to help you learn more about Black hair, how natural hair discrimination perpetuates systemic racism, and how you can help fight back against natural hair discrimination. Below it, you will find examples of LDF cases related to hair discrimination against Black people in schools and workplaces.

Why is Black hair special?

The exceptional nature of Black hair goes beyond just cultural differences. The waves, curls, coils, and ringlets that Black hair can have causes it to have unique needs. Black people often choose to wear “protective hairstyles” like braids, twists, and locs to maintain healthy hair and prevent breakage. These hairstyles can be worn for long stretches of time without constant manipulation. The alternative is often to use chemical or heat straighteners that can damage the hair in the short and long term.

Black hair is also an expression of identity and culture. It’s a representation of history and carries deep emotional significance. Historically, Black hair has carried a profound symbolism. Cornrows, locs, twists, afros, bantu knots, and more all have historic connections to Black pride, culture, religion, and history, which makes wearing these styles all the more significant.

Why is Black hair currently in the spotlight?

Black adults, schoolchildren, and members of the military have long been discriminated against because of their natural hairstyles, such as afros, twists, locs and braids. By penalizing hairstyles that fall outside of Eurocentric norms of beauty, discriminatory grooming policies in schools and workplaces are a manifestation of institutional racism.  

The increased attention on Black hair is the result of heightened social media conversations and viral news stories, such as FedEx employees suing the company after they were fired for having locs,  De'Andre Arnold and Kaden Bradford, who LDF represents in a lawsuit against the school district that denied them educational opportunities when they refused to cut their locs, and Andrew Johnson, a high school wrestler who was forced to cut his hair to compete in a meet. 

The work of The CROWN Act coalition partners has also brought national attention to the need for a federal law prohibiting hair discrimination. For decades, LDF has worked to combat discriminatory policies that target Black hair and is an ardent proponent of Crown Act legislation. 

How does hair discrimination occur in the workplace?

A 2020 study by Michigan State University and Duke University titled “The Natural Hair Bias in Job Recruitment found that Black women face the highest likelihood of being subjected to hair discrimination. The research suggests that Black women with natural hairstyles are less likely to get interviews than white women or Black women with straightened hair. 

Additionally, researchers found that participants viewed Black hairstyles like afros, twists or braids as less professional. The study determined that Black women with natural hairstyles are less likely to land job interviews than white women or Black women with straightened hair. 

 A 2019 study by Dove found that Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair. 80 percent of Black women reported feeling that they needed to switch their hairstyle to align with more conservative standards in order to fit in at work.  

A 2019 study by Dove found that Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair. 80 percent of Black women reported feeling that they needed to switch their hairstyle to align with more conservative standards in order to fit in at work. 

Black people have also lost their jobs or had job offers revoked because of hair discrimination. In EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, Chasity Jones, a Black woman in Alabama alleged she was offered a job that was then rescinded when she refused to cut her locs. The EEOC filed a lawsuit against Catastrophe Management Solutions, claiming the company rescinded the job offer based on harmful stereotypes about Black hair being naturally unprofessional. 

How do Black people alter their hair for majority white spaces?

Since the late 19th century, some Black people who have more tightly curled hair have used chemicals that “relax” or “perm” the hair, or heated tools like hair irons, hot combs, or blow dryers to straighten their hair.

For many Black people, altering the texture of their hair is considered essential to social and economic success. Hair straightening has long been seen as a way to assimilate to a Eurocentric environment and make those unfamiliar with Black hair more comfortable with their presence.

For many Black people, altering the texture of their hair is considered essential to social and economic success. Hair straightening has long been seen as a way to assimilate to a Eurocentric environment and make those unfamiliar with Black hair more comfortable with their presence.  

How does hair discrimination occur in schools?

Some school policies that ban natural and protective styles are grounds for discipline or removal from school, meaning Black students have been denied educational opportunities because of their hair. 66 percent of Black girls in majority-white schools report experiencing hair discrimination. School grooming policies that ban culturally significant hairstyles deny students valuable instructional time by removing students from the classroom, causing them to miss  out on lessons. Black students across the country have been asked to cut or straighten their hair to meet dress codes and grooming policies. When Black students wear their hair in culturally significant hairstyles, they are disproportionately singled out and disciplined for violating various regulations and policies. Some school districts have banned specific Black hairstyles, which prevent students from attending school events like prom, extracurricular and sports activities, and even graduation. Additionally, some educators and sports officials are pulling Black girls from athletic competitions until they remove their beads from their braids. A New Jersey high school wrestler was forced to cut off his locs by a referee before a match.  

How does hair discrimination impact children?

The racial disparities in school discipline are well documented and pervasive. Black students are more likely to be suspended for discretionary reasons, such as dress code or hair violations — neither of which have been found to be predictive of student misconduct, according to researchers at Princeton University. These punishments place students on a trajectory toward poor academic performance, leading to higher dropout rates, gang involvement, and getting arrested before the age of 21.  

Hair discrimination is rooted in systemic racism and erodes trust between students and the education system that is supposed to care for them. It impacts children as young as five years old. Protective styles, locs, headwraps, and durags are not just core to the protection of Black hair — they are expressions of culture and identity. Policies that discriminate against natural hair have been used to justify the removal of Black children from classrooms and deny them educational opportunities. Discriminating against Black hair reinforces the othering of Black children, enforces harmful stereotypes, and is a form of policing Black identity.

What is The CROWN Act?

The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” is a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination. The CROWN Act aims to end the denial of employment, educational, and other opportunities because of natural hair texture and protective hairstyles. It prohibits discrimination based on natural hair style and texture, such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, afros, and protects the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state. Specifics of the law vary from state to state and among the localities that have adopted it.

What is the status of The CROWN Act?

As of June 2023, at least 23 states including Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, 28 municipalities, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have signed the CROWN Act, or legislation inspired by the CROWN Act, into law. Twenty nine additional states have pre-filed, filed, or intend to introduce the legislation.  

Federal legislation was reintroduced in March 2021 in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 2116) by Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman and in the U.S. Senate (S. 888) by Senator Cory Booker, both of New Jersey.  

Why do we need The CROWN Act? Don't other anti-discrimination laws cover this?

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination on the bases of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. Other federal laws also create protected classes based on age, disability, pregnancy, familial status, veteran status, and genetic information. Hair discrimination is racial discrimination. The CROWN Act seeks to clarify current anti- discrimination laws and make crystal clear that hair discrimination is illegal. While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already prohibits employment discrimination based on race and While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already prohibits employment discrimination based on race, Title VI already prohibits discrimination by federally-funded institutions based on race, and the Fair Housing Act already prohibits housing discrimination based on race, the CROWN Act makes it clear that discrimination based on hair texture and culturally significant hairstyles is prohibited.

Where can I find out more about the CROWN Act and hair discrimination?

You can find more information about the status and future of hair discrimination legislation at TheCROWNAct.com. The CROWN Coalition, spearheaded by Dove and Unilever, has created a petition to help end hair discrimination in the workplace and schools.

View our Black Hair Belongs Booklet here and the Dressed to Express: How Dress Codes Discriminate Against Texas Students and Must Be Changed here.

My hair has never had anything to do with my behavior or my capacity to learn,  but my high school’s grooming policy denied me equal educational opportunities and extracurricular opportunities, including the opportunity to graduate with my peers.

- Deandre Arnold, LDF client

Litigation

Arnold v. Barbers Hill Independent School District

filed: 2020

Since May 2020, LDF – along with co-counsel Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP– has represented De’Andre Arnold, his mother Sandy Arnold, and his cousin Kaden Bradford in their hair discrimination lawsuit against the Barbers Hill Independent School District (“BHISD”) in Mont Belvieu, Texas about 30 miles east of Houston. BHISD has repeatedly made international headlines for harshly disciplining Native American and Black boys who refuse to cut their culturally significant hair to comply with BHISD’s grooming policy. After BHISD revised its grooming policy in December 2019, De’Andre and Kaden – who had been growing uncut locs for years in homage to their Black and Trinidadian heritage – found themselves assigned to in-school suspension and excluded from extracurricular activities and graduation. LDF’s complaint alleges that BHISD’s construction and enforcement of its hair policy constitutes unlawful sex and race discrimination and a violation of our clients’ right to freedom of expression. The complaint also seeks relief from BHISD’s retaliation against Mrs. Arnold after she spoke out against the policy. The complaint further alleges that, not only did BHISD selectively enforce its discriminatory hair policy to target Black students with uncut locs, but, when the discrimination made the local news, BHISD ramped up enforcement of the hair policy against other students in an apparent attempt to conceal the selective enforcement. 

In August 2020, after a 27-hour evidentiary hearing involving the testimony of 10 witnesses, we obtained a preliminary injunction barring the school district from enforcing its hair policy against our client Kaden Bradford, allowing Kaden to finally return to class (De’Andre had already graduated by then).  Citing “evidence in the record of selective enforcement, procedural irregularities, and increasingly restrictive amendments [to the hair policy], coupled with the lack of a persuasive justification for the hair-length policy,” the Court held that K.B. had established a substantial likelihood of success on his gender discrimination, race discrimination, and First Amendment claims. The court’s decision generated significant positive press coverage, including on CNNNBC, and the Houston Chronicle, and energized activism and advocacy surrounding the CROWN Act, with De’Andre and LDF’s former Director of Policy Lisa Cylar Barrett testifying before the Texas House of Representatives Committee for State Affairs concerning proposed versions of the legislation during the 2021 session.  On May 27, 2023, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the signed the Texas CROWN Act into law

The court’s decision prompted the Texas Association of School Boards to update its guidance governing student dress and grooming codes across public schools in Texas; the ACLU of Texas to notify approximately 500 Texas school districts of the decision and urge them to revise discriminatory dress codes; and the National Federation of State High School Associations to recommend schools eliminate grooming requirements for student-athletes that might disproportionately impact members of protected classes where the requirements are not justified by safety concerns.  The case has been the subject of scholarly articles, CLE presentations, and law firm advisories, and has also been mentioned in treatises on student discipline law and injunctions.  In addition, the court’s decision has led multiple school districts to revise their dress codes to remove discriminatory language. LDF’s success in Arnold v. Barbers Hill Independent School District also inspired similar lawsuits that resulted in additional injunctions barring the enforcement of discriminatory grooming policies in other school districts.   

LDF has since defeated a motion for partial dismissal of the case (read LDF’s brief here). The case was proceeding to trial when the school district filed an interlocutory appeal of a pretrial discovery order.  The case has since been stayed pending resolution of the appeal.  On February 7, 2023, LDF argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on behalf of our clients.  We await a decision. 

Litigation

EEOC V. Catastrophe Management Solutions

filed: 2016

In May 2010, Chastity C. Jones applied to work as a customer service representative with Catastrophe Management Solutions (CMS), an Alabama company. Ms. Jones wore short locs throughout the interview process and CMS hired her on the spot. Nevertheless, after Ms. Jones refused CMS Human Resource Manager’s request to cut her locs, CMS rescinded its offer of employment. In 2013, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against CMS on behalf of Ms. Jones.

On September 15, 2016, an Eleventh Circuit panel ruled that CMS’s refusal to hire Ms. Jones because she wears locs does not violate Title VII. CMS used a facially neutral grooming policy that in effect manifested a preference for hairstyles that suit white hair texture, while prohibiting many natural and protective hairstyles Black hair texture. 

On November 10, 2016, LDF filed an amicus brief in EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. We were joined by the Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center and Professors D. Wendy Greene and Angela Onwuachi-Willig. LDF’s brief argued in support of a petition for rehearing en banc in this case, which considers whether Title VII’s broad mandate to purge the workplace of racial discrimination reaches a policy that trades on Eurocentric conventions of beauty and professionalism.

Like many other Black men and women, locs are central to Ms. Jones’s sense of self. CMS forced Ms. Jones to choose between gainful employment and remaining true to her racial identity. LDF’s amicus brief argued that, to fulfill its mandate, courts should interpret Title VII expansively to reach every dimension of a person’s racial identity. 

In 2018, LDF petitioned the court to consider Jones’ case to correct the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling. LDF argued that the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling departs from established Supreme Court precedent and conflicts with other circuit courts that have decided similar questions, but have reached the correct conclusion. CMS’ notion that locs will become messy, and are therefore unprofessional, is a false racial stereotype that denied an employment opportunity for Ms. Jones. Anti-discrimination laws, like Title VII, were enacted to root out such discriminatory employment practices. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court declined to review the case.

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