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
  • Chicago, IL
  • Denver, CO
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Edwardsville, IL
  • Jefferson City, MO
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • London, England
  • Miami, FL
  • New York, NY
  • Orange County, CA
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Princeton, NJ
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Wilmington, DE
abstract image of world map
Boston, MA
800 Boylston St.
30th Floor
Boston, MA 02199
Google Maps
Boston, Massachusetts
Chicago, IL
100 North Riverside Plaza
Suite 1500
Chicago, IL 60606-1520
Google Maps
Chicago, Illinois
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
7160 Rafael Rivera Way
Suite 320
Las Vegas, NV 89113
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 1200
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
Orange County, CA
19800 MacArthur Boulevard
Suite 300
Irvine, CA 92612
Google Maps
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
222 South Main St.
Suite 1830
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
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.
1717 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Suite 400
Washington, DC 20006
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