On June 9, 2022, the Austin City Council unanimously voted to pass what is known as a CROWN Act, a law prohibiting discrimination based on a person’s hair texture or hairstyle. CROWN stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” Consequently, the Austin City Code will be revised to prohibit discrimination based on protective hairstyle in housing, public accommodations, and employment. Protective hairstyles are those necessitated by, or resulting from, the characteristics of a hair texture or hairstyle commonly associated with race, national origin, ethnicity, or culture, and include but are not limited to afros, Bantu knots, braids, cornrows, curls, locs, twists, or hair that is tightly coiled or tightly curled.

The CROWN Act was first introduced in California in 2019 to eliminate hair discrimination across the country as part of a national movement driven by the CROWN Coalition. CROWN Acts, or similar legislation, has since been enacted in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington—legislation awaits the signatures of the governors of Alaska, Illinois, and Louisiana. A number of cities and counties have also passed CROWN Acts, including Michigan (Ann Arbor, Ingham County, and Genesee County) and Wisconsin (Dane County and Milwaukee). In March, the United States House passed the CROWN Act (H.R. 2116). The Act was sent to the Senate where it was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Austin’s passage of the CROWN Act will impact Austin employers with 15 or more employees, as well as contractors providing labor, goods, or services to the City of Austin. Upon modification of the City Code, employers will be prohibited from failing or refusing to hire or discharging any individual, or otherwise discriminating against an individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, based on the individual’s protective hairstyle (in addition to the other longstanding protected characteristics of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identify, national origin, age, or disability). Austin employers should make plans to update their employee handbooks accordingly and to integrate this additional protected characteristic into any management or supervisory training.

If you have any questions about the CROWN Act, please contact the author of this article or any member of Dykema’s Labor and Employment team.