Guidance Issued on Race Discrimination on the Basis of Hair

March 22, 2019 Publications

The NYC Commission on Human Rights recently issued guidance on prohibiting race discrimination on the basis of hairstyle, which should be reviewed by every Cooperative and Condominium Board (and managing agents).  The following is a short summary of the Commission’s guidance. The official guidance can be found at the Commission’s website.

As noted in the guidance, “Anti-Black racism … includes discrimination based on characteristics and cultural practices associated with being Black. Bans or restrictions on natural hair or hairstyles associated with Black people are often rooted in White standards of appearance and perpetuate racist stereotypes that Black hairstyles are unprofessional.“

Though not an exhaustive list of protected hairstyles, the guidance includes natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state. (The guidance notes that other communities have a religious or cultural connection with uncut hair, such as Native Americans, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Nazirites and Rastafarians.)

The NYC Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination in employment, which in most circumstances covers employers with four or more employees. Black hairstyles are protected racial characteristics under the law because they are an inherent part of the Black identity. Therefore, employers may not enact discriminatory policies that force Black employees to straighten, relax or otherwise manipulate their hair to conform to employer expectations.

An employer can impose requirements to maintain a work-appropriate appearance, but they cannot enforce such policies in a discriminatory manner or target specific hairstyles. Where an employer has a legitimate health or safety concern, the employer must consider alternative ways to meet that concern prior to imposing a ban or restriction.

Please note that an independent contractor who works in furtherance of an employer’s business is considered an “employee” under the law. Therefore, if a coop or condo hires an independent security guard company or a landscaping company, those persons working at the site may be considered employees of the coop or condo, and are protected by the law.

The penalty for a violation of the law can be a fine up to $250,000 and, of course, the aggrieved party may be entitled to damages (with no ceiling).

We strongly suggest consulting with counsel if you have or wish to establish any limitations on employees’ hairstyles, uniforms or appearance. To discuss further, please reach out to a member of our Cooperative and Condominium Law practice today.

Contact Us
  • Worldwide
  • Boston, MA
  • Denver, CO
  • Edwardsville, IL
  • Jefferson City, MO
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • New York, NY
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Princeton, NJ
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • St. Louis, MO
Worldwide
abstract image of world map
Boston, MA
225 Franklin Street
26th Floor
Boston, MA 02110
Google Maps
Boston, Massachusetts
Denver, CO
4643 S. Ulster St.
Suite 800
Denver, CO 80237
Google Maps
Denver, Colorado
Edwardsville, IL
115 N. Second St.
Edwardsville, IL 62025
Google Maps
Edwardsville, Illinois
Jefferson City, MO
3405 W. Truman Boulevard
Suite 210
Jefferson City, MO 65109
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
3770 Howard Hughes Parkway
Suite 200
Las Vegas, NV 89169
Google Maps
Las Vegas, Nevada
New York, NY
919 Third Ave., 37th Floor
New York, NY 10022
Google Maps
New York City
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
257 East 200 South
Suite 350
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