Thought Leadership

Compliance with Hairstyle Discrimination Laws

October 7, 2019 Advisory

Prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of hairstyle has become a growing trend across the United States. The New York City Commission on Human Rights issued guidance on this subject early in 2019, and over the summer, California and New York passed laws expressly banning such discrimination. Last month, New Jersey joined this movement when the state’s Division on Civil Rights (DCR) published guidance confirming that the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination bars employers, housing providers and places of public accommodation from discriminating on the basis of hairstyle.

DCR guidance indicates that New Jersey law’s prohibition of hairstyle discrimination will be interpreted:

  • “with a particular focus on hairstyles closely associated with Black people,” and
  • to make it unlawful to enforce “grooming or appearance policies that ban, limit, or restrict hairstyles closely associated with Black people, including, but not limited to, twists, braids, cornrows, Afros, locs, Bantu knots, and fades.”

While states have only recently begun to target hairstyle discrimination explicitly, the EEOC has long interpreted federal antidiscrimination law to prohibit employers from discriminating against applicants and employees on the basis of hairstyles that are common within certain minority communities. For example, the EEOC’s Compliance Manual warns that hairstyle rules must “respect racial differences in hair textures and [be] applied evenhandedly.”

Some states, however, have signaled a more aggressive approach to this issue, which should prompt employers to review their personnel policies and antidiscrimination training to mitigate risks of hairstyle discrimination claims. Recently published DCR guidance notes that hairstyle discrimination may be disguised with language “rooted in white, European standards of beauty” and that stereotyping “traditionally Black hairstyles” as “unprofessional,” “unkempt,” “matted” or “messy” may be unlawful. For these reasons, some common employee policies and rules, such as “professional appearance” and “grooming” policies, may need to be clarified to avoid a discriminatory inference.

Armstrong Teasdale’s Employment and Labor practice routinely guides employers in their efforts to comply with discrimination and harassment laws and will issue additional alerts as these laws continue to change. With a national Employment and Labor practice, Armstrong Teasdale is well equipped to address the evolving obligations of U.S. employers.

Contact Us
  • Worldwide
  • Boston, MA
  • Denver, CO
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Edwardsville, IL
  • Jefferson City, MO
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • London, England
  • Miami, FL
  • New York, NY
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Princeton, NJ
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Wilmington, DE
Worldwide
abstract image of world map
Boston, MA
800 Boylston St.
30th Floor
Boston, MA 02199
Google Maps
Boston, Massachusetts
Denver, CO
4643 S. Ulster St.
Suite 800
Denver, CO 80237
Google Maps
Denver, Colorado
Dublin, Ireland
Fitzwilliam Hall, Fitzwilliam Place
Dublin 2, Ireland
Google Maps
Edwardsville, IL
115 N. Second St.
Edwardsville, IL 62025
Google Maps
Edwardsville, Illinois
Jefferson City, MO
101 E. High St.
First Floor
Jefferson City, MO 65101
Google Maps
Jefferson City, Missouri
Kansas City, MO
2345 Grand Blvd.
Suite 1500
Kansas City, MO 64108
Google Maps
Kansas City, Missouri
Las Vegas, NV
1980 Festival Plaza Drive, Suite 750
One Summerlin
Las Vegas, NV 89135
Google Maps
Las Vegas, Nevada
London, England
Royal College of Surgeons of England
38-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields
London, WC2A 3PE
Google Maps
Miami, FL
355 Alhambra Circle
Suite 1250
Coral Gables, FL 33134
Google Maps
Photo of Miami, Florida
New York, NY
7 Times Square, 44th Floor
New York, NY 10036
Google Maps
New York City skyline
Philadelphia, PA
2005 Market Street
29th Floor, One Commerce Square
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Google Maps
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Princeton, NJ
100 Overlook Center
Second Floor
Princeton, NJ 08540
Google Maps
Princeton, New Jersey
Salt Lake City, UT
201 South Main Street
Suite 750
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Google Maps
Salt Lake City, Utah
St. Louis, MO
7700 Forsyth Blvd.
Suite 1800
St. Louis, MO 63105
Google Maps
St. Louis, Missouri
Washington, D.C.
1050 Connecticut Avenue NW
Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036
Google Maps
Photo of Washington, D.C. with the Capitol in the foreground and Washington Monument in the background.
Wilmington, DE
1007 North Market Street
Wilmington, DE 19801
Google Maps
Wilmington, Delaware