Minnesota Joins Growing List of States to Ban Race-Based Hair Discrimination, as New CROWN Act Becomes Law
Seyfarth Synopsis: Minnesota becomes the latest of a growing number of states to enact CROWN Act legislation, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of hair textures and hairstyles. Its enactment expands Minnesota employers’ responsibilities under the state’s anti-discrimination laws and reminds employers nationwide to reevaluate their own policies in light of this trend.
The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” continues to gain momentum at federal, state, and local levels. These laws generally prohibit race discrimination on the basis of hair texture and hair styles and have been heavily championed by civil rights organizations. CROWN Act legislation represents a subtle but meaningful nuance in anti-discrimination laws for employers across the country. See our previous coverage of these laws here and here.
On February 1, 2023, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed the CROWN Act, making Minnesota the 20thstate to ban race-based hair discrimination. Sponsored by Representative Esther Agbaje, House File (HF) 37 (the “Bill”) passed the state House by a vote of 111 to 19 on January 11, 2023 and passed the state Senate by a vote of 45 to 19 on January 26, 2023. “Discrimination has no place in Minnesota,” said Walz in a news release. “By signing the CROWN Act, we are sending a message that Black Minnesotans deserve to live and work free from discrimination. Today we are taking an important step in creating a more equitable Minnesota.”
The CROWN Act expands the definition of race under Minnesota’s Human Rights Act, which is the state law that prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, public services, education, credit, and business based on protected class, such as: race, religion, disability, national origin, sex, marital status, familial status, age, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Consistent with other CROWN Act legislation, that expanded definition provides that “race is inclusive of traits associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and hair styles such as braids, locs, and twists.” Similar language has been adopted 19 other states, including California, New York, Colorado, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, Massachusetts and others, with pending legislation introduced in all but a handful of states. The push for nationwide adoption of CROWN Acts is not slowing down. In fact, even when these bills have failed at the state level, advocates of this type of legislation have turned to promote such laws at the city and county level. A growing number of cities and municipalities have banned race-based hair discriminatory practices including Harris County (TX); St. Louis, Missouri; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Austin, Texas; Tempe and Tucson, Arizona; Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri; Ann Arbor, Michigan and others. As previously noted, a federal version of the CROWN Act passed the House on March 18, 2022, but did not get a vote in the Senate last session.
Given the momentum of CROWN Acts across the country, employers should continue to review their grooming or personal appearance standards to ensure all relevant policies are facially neutral and do not have potential to encourage discriminatory practices related to hair textures and protective hairstyles.
In addition to maintaining written policies, employers may consider covering hair-based discrimination within their training materials for managers and employees. Employers should also be on alert for updates on federal, state, and local CROWN Acts in locations in which they do business.
Beyond “braids, locs, and twists,” Minnesota’s CROWN Act does not provide additional details on specific hair styles that are protected. We expect that the Minnesota Department of Human Rights will issue guidance on the application of the new law and we will continue to monitor for such updates.
Please reach out to your Seyfarth attorney with any questions.