25 July 2023

The CROWN’s Momentum

Earlier this summer, Governor Whitmer signed into effect the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act. The Act amended the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act’s (ELCRA) definition of “race.” Now, ELCRA’s prohibition against race discrimination includes “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” The new law further defines “protective hairstyles” to include braids, locks, and twists.

Michigan is now one of 23 states to prohibit discrimination based on hair texture and styles. According to legislation trackers, out of the 27 states that have not yet enacted a version of the CROWN Act, 21 have legislation that is either filed or pre-filed. Only six states, Ohio, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Hawaii, have no legislation filed.

Additionally, a federal version of the CROWN Act was introduced into the House of Representatives in 2021 and 2022. In fact, the House passed the CROWN Act of 2022 by a vote of 235 to 189. However, it failed to pass the Senate. The CROWN Act of 2022 would have been enforced in the same manner as if it was incorporated into Title VII. The proposed bill would have made it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an individual “based on the individual’s hair texture or hairstyle, if that hair texture or that hairstyle is commonly associated with a particular race or national origin.”

President Biden also indicated “strong support” for a federal version of the CROWN Act, and released a statement in 2022 that the “Administration look[ed] forward to working with the Congress to enact this legislation and ensure that it is effectively implemented.”

With the CROWN Act’s growing momentum throughout the country, it is important for employers to review their policies—particularly grooming and uniform policies—to ensure compliance. Employers should also be aware of the breadth of each state’s law. For example, Michigan’s protection of “traits historically associated with race” could be interpreted to include other characteristics beyond hair texture and styles. Similarly, the CROWN Act of 2022 left questions regarding what hair textures or hairstyles were “commonly associated with a particular race.”

The subtle differences between states’ laws could leave employers vulnerable to risks.

Contact the author Bridget McConville.