Last week, Montgomery County, Maryland became the first jurisdiction in the Mid-Atlantic area to ban discrimination—including in the workplace—based on natural hairstyle. The bill expands the definition of race to include “traits historically associated with race,” which includes “hair texture and protective hairstyles.” Specific hairstyles articulated in the legislation include braids, locs, Afros, curls and twists, which are often associated with African American or Latino individuals.
The bill, aptly titled the CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair), is one of a small but emerging trend to prohibit discrimination based on natural hairstyle. California and New York both passed laws prohibiting discrimination based on natural hairstyle earlier this year. A number of other jurisdictions have introduced similar laws, including Wisconsin, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, Michigan, and Illinois.
Montgomery County Office of Human Rights will accept charges on this basis, and individuals may seek up to $5,000 in a civil penalty.
For the rest of Maryland—take note. Montgomery County is often the trend setter in the state with respect to new employment legislation. If paid sick leave is any indication, natural hairstyle discrimination will be a state-wide protected class in the next few years.