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What Is Hair Discrimination?

In January 2020, Rep. Kambrell Garvin introduced the CROWN Act in the South Carolina legislature, which aims to outlaw discrimination based on hair texture and what are often called “race-based” hairstyles. A lobbyist group called the CROWN Coalition has gotten similar acts passed in other states, and South Carolina stands poised to help ban this insidious form of race-based discrimination if the bill is successful. It can be hard to determine whether you have been discriminated against on this basis, but if you have, you may be able to seek redress.

A Common Pattern

It may seem that instances of “hair discrimination” are few and far between enough that legislating it with the CROWN act would be frivolous. But in reality, black people and other people of color contend with discrimination that views their protective hairstyles as “messy” or “unprofessional.” Statistics show that people of color, particularly women of color, are approximately 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair. In addition, black women’s hair is 3.4 times more likely to be perceived as “unprofessional” than those of other races.

While the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that hair discrimination does not rise to the level of “intentional race-based discrimination,” in reality, people of color routinely face a loss of employment opportunities based on their appearance. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on this issue as of this writing, but regardless, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) treats hair discrimination as race discrimination, which means that if you suspect hair discrimination, your case may find a home there.

Several Avenues

While there is no jurisprudence explicitly categorizing hair discrimination as race-based discrimination, an argument can be made that it qualifies as de facto discrimination—in other words, while dress code policies that bar hairstyles like locs, twists, or knots may be facially neutral, they still disproportionately affect people of color, and are thus unlawful. It can be difficult to determine whether a policy is discriminatory in fact when it is not discriminatory on paper, but if there is a pattern, it can be established.

Depending on your specific situation, it may also be relevant to argue that hair discrimination violates your religious beliefs—religion being another protected characteristic under Title VII. One of the most common situations in which this may occur is with men of the Sikh faith, who wear beards as part of their religious expression, but have routinely faced the same accusation of being “unprofessional.” If this happens to you, it is a good idea to contact the EEOC or the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission and determine whether or not you have a case.

Call A South Carolina Employment Discrimination Attorney

Over time, more people are becoming aware of the toll that hair discrimination takes on communities of color. No one should face loss of opportunities due to the way they wear their hair. If you believe you have experienced this kind of mistreatment, contacting a South Carolina employment discrimination attorney at the firm of Hitchcock & Potts may be the first step toward being made whole again. Attorney A. Christopher Potts is ready and willing to assist you with your case. Contact us today.

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