In October 2020, both Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and the City of Pittsburgh passed Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Acts, which prohibit discrimination based on hairstyle and “protective and cultural hair textures and hairstyles” (i.e., those that are commonly associated with certain groups that are afforded the protections under existing anti-discrimination laws).
The respective Acts amend provisions of the County and City Codes that prohibit employment, housing, and public accommodation discrimination.1 Allegheny County’s CROWN Act specifically prohibits discrimination based on any characteristic, texture, form, or manner of wearing an individual’s hair if such characteristic, texture, form or manner is commonly associated with a particular race, national origin, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or religion. The City of Pittsburgh’s CROWN Act specifically prohibits discrimination based on hairstyles and hair textures commonly associated with race, including, but not limited to, braids, cornrows, locs, Bantu knots, Afros, and twists. The City of Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, the agency charged with enforcing the CROWN Act, has issued detailed guidance on the CROWN Act, including lists of “Dos and Don’ts” in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh are the latest jurisdictions to join a recent wave of states, counties and cities that have prohibited race-based hair discrimination. States that have enacted their own CROWN Acts include California, Washington, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, and Colorado. Other localities that have enacted their own CROWN Acts include Montgomery County, Maryland, New York City, and Cincinnati and Toledo, Ohio.
Employers with employees in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and other states and localities that have adopted similar CROWN Acts should review their current dress and appearance codes, policies and practices to ensure that they respect ethnic or cultural practices related to hairstyles. Employers may want to train frontline managers who are often responsible for enforcing or otherwise interpreting company dress and appearance standards or policies. Effective training can help ensure that employers create and appropriately interpret neutral grooming standards in a way that promotes both company business interests and an inclusive workplace environment.
Given the increasing number of jurisdictions that are adopting CROWN Acts, multistate employers will want to be on the lookout for additional legislation local, state, and federal levels, and they may want to consider adopting nationwide practices consistent with the CROWN Acts, both to help with compliance and to make their workplaces more inclusive.