New York City Announces New Rules to Prevent Hair and Hairstyle Discrimination | Nisar Law Group, P.C.

Race and nationality discrimination takes many forms. For example, some employers refuse to hire job applicants based on certain characteristics or cultural practices associated with certain racial groups. This includes such things as a person's hair or hairstyle.

Employers May Not Classify Black Hairstyles as “Unprofessional”

According to recent legal enforcement guidance issued by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, many Black people–a group that includes African-Americans, Afro-Caribbean, and Afro-Latin individuals, among others–face workplace discrimination based on their hair. This includes not only a refusal to hire Black people with certain types of hair, but also the imposition of dress or appearance codes that restrict hairstyles such as dreadlocks or cornrows.

The Commission said that such bans and restrictions “are often rooted in white standards of appearance and perpetuate racist stereotypes that Black hairstyles are unprofessional.” The Commission noted that the bias against Black hairstyles is rooted in the beliefs of “white slave traders” who coined the term “dreadlocks” to refer to what they considered the “dreadful” natural hair style of Africans.

Given all this, the Commission's guidance stated that the New York City Human Rights Law's prohibition on race-based discrimination also extends to hair and hairstyles. This means that an employer in the City may not enforce any dress code or appearance policy “in a discriminatory manner” or that targets “specific hair textures or hairstyles.” This means that an employer may not:

  • forbid employees from having “twists, braids, cornrows, Afros, Bantu knots, fades,” or other hairstyles that are “commonly associated with Black people”;
  • require employees to “straighten or relax hair” using chemicals or heat in order to comply with a company “grooming policy”;
  • effectively ban Afros by limiting the length of an employee's hair to a “certain number of inches of inches from the scalp”;
  • require only Black employees to “alter or cut their hair” as a condition of employment, or requiring only Black employees to obtain a supervisor's permission to change hairstyles;
  • require Black employees to “hide their hair or hairstyle” using a hat, visor, or other head covering; or
  • refuse to hire a Black job applicant because his or her hair does not fit the employer's “image.”

Any employer who violates these rules face potential civil penalties from the Commission of up to $250,000, in addition to any damages owed to an affected employee of job applicant.

Speak with a New York City Race and Nationality Discrimination Lawyer Today

It should be noted that hair discrimination is not necessarily protected under federal law. In fact, at least one federal appeals court–the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, Georgia–has expressly said Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not prevent an employer from refusing to hire a woman with dreadlocks, as in that Court's view such a hairstyle was not “an immutable characteristic of black individuals.”

If you work in New York City and have reason to believe that an employer has discriminated against you on the basis of hair or hairstyle, you should speak with a qualified New York City employment attorney right away. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar to schedule an initial consultation with a member of our legal team today.

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