NYC expands law against hair discrimination

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New York City has expanded its law against hair discrimination to include styles and headwear inspired by people’s religious customs.

The city Human Rights Commission approved rules in 2019 barring employers from engaging in hair discrimination based on race — largely focusing on the hair styles and textures of African Americans.

But the revised rules adopted by the HRC earlier this week extends those protections to people who don hair-styles or head coverings for religious reasons — from Rastafarian locs to turbans.

The new rules moreover leave the door open to investigate “hair-based discrimination on the basis of disability, gender, age or other protected status under the New York City Human Rights Law.”

The law also explicitly covers the hair styles of Native Americans.

Violators could face fines up to $250,000.

Examples of discrimination that could be targeted according to the HRC include: An employer ousting a worker who converts to a different faith and begins to wear religious headwear, such as a turban, hijab or yarmulke, to partly cover or completely cover their hair; a landlord who refuses to rent to a tenant because her hair is styled into dreadlocks, worn as part of her Rastafarian religious beliefs; and a retail store that orders a worker to cut or conceal their hairstyle or facial hair.

Refusing to serve a customer because of his hair also is forbidden. For example, bouncer at a bar who tells a turban-wearing patron that he looks like a “terrorist” and denies him admission based on the bar’s “no headwear” policy.

Meanwhile a school can be punished for failing to stop bullying of a student because harassers say he looks like “Osama Bin Laden.”

The issue of hair discrimination came to a head two years ago when a white referee forced a black New Jersey high school wrestler to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit is match.

The HRC subsequently approve its law forbidding discrimination against black hairstyles such a braids, cornrows, dreadlocks and afros.

“There is a widespread and fundamentally racist belief that black hairstyles are not suited for formal settings, and may be unhygienic, messy, disruptive, or unkempt,” the agency said.

Those beliefs, it added, “are often rooted in white standards of appearance and perpetuate racist stereotypes that black hairstyles are unprofessional.”

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