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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

New York City has banned hairstyle discrimination

As of February, it isillegal in New York City for employers to discriminate against employees and job-seekers based on the style in which they wear their hair.

Some of our readers may be surprised: where did this ban come from? Well, as the New York City Commission on Human Rights explained in a detailed and footnoted guide to the new law, historically, "hair discrimination" has been used to target specifically the African-American community. Employers have been known to ban traditionally black hairstyles such as cornrows, dreadlocks, and Afros. Other employers have mandated that black employees chemically treat their hair to make it straighter. These serve as real and serious impediments to black workers, who are being told to radically alter their natural hair, or refrain from wearing it in a culturally common manner, at risk of being fired. The new law applies to all workers and all culturally common hairstyles, but was sparked by instances of discrimination against black employees.

The new regulations were put into effect after several instances of hair discrimination were uncovered by the City, and after lawsuits brought the issue to the forefront of public attention. In 2017, a black Banana Republic employee sued parent company The Gap after being told that her braids were "unkempt" and not "Banana Republic appropriate." The New York Times uncovered several other examples of city workers being told by supervisors that their traditionally black hairstyle was somehow inappropriate.

 The Commission on Human Rights is empowered to levy fines of up to $250,000 on employers who violate the new rule, as well as demand changes at offending workplaces.

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