On December 22, 2020, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell signed into law the CROWN Act (Calendar No. 33,184). The new law prohibits employment discrimination in the City of New Orleans based on hairstyles. The law is modeled after federal legislation introduced in January 2020—the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act (CROWN Act)—designed to correct racial and cultural inequities by making hair discrimination illegal in the United States. In the meantime, cities have taken the lead passing similar legislation and protections. New Orleans joins Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, New York, New York, and Kansas City, Missouri, among other jurisdictions across the country that have also enacted legal protections to combat employment discrimination by addressing “deep inequities and barriers facing people of color and especially women of color in the workplace,” as the order stated, based on hairstyles.

Chapter 86 of the New Orleans Code of Ordinances, the city’s antidiscrimination ordinance, prohibits discrimination because of sex, disability, race, national origin, sexual orientation, age, and religion. The new hairstyle ordinance, an amendment to the antidiscrimination law, prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle as a subset of discrimination based on race or national origin.

The new law amends Chapter 86 by incorporating and defining the term “[p]rotected cultural hairstyle.” The ordinance defines a “[p]rotected cultural hairstyle” as “any hairstyle or hair texture commonly associated with a particular race or national origin, including locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, Afros, and any hairstyle in which hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled.” Under the law, New Orleans employers are prohibited from making employment decisions based on protected cultural hairstyles. Employers that take any such acts will be presumed to have unlawfully discriminated against an employee based upon the individual’s “race or national origin.”

The ordinance explains that the new law and its protections are necessary to ensure that all residents of New Orleans are afforded “equal protection under the law.” In so doing, the ordinance points to recent national studies and data suggesting that “in the workplace, Black women’s hair is heavily policed through grooming policies.” Relying on data from “The CROWN Research Study,” the ordinance explains that a majority of the Black female study participants acknowledged that they either felt a need to change or did in fact change their hairstyles to “‘fit in’” a workplace. It further notes that the study found that employers were over three times more likely to send Black females home because of their hairstyles, and that their hair was considered to be styled in an ‘“unprofessional’” manner. The city councilmember who introduced the ordinance indicated that Black women are 50 percent more likely to be subjected to discrimination in the workplace simply because of the style of their hair. The ordinance stated that such policies have long served as a means for “exclud[ing] Black individuals from both professional and social environments.”

With the enactment of this new law, the City of New Orleans has made it clear to employers that acts in the workplace based on an individual’s hairstyle constitutes employment discrimination and will no longer be tolerated. The ordinance became effective on December 22, 2020, with Mayor Cantrell’s signature.

Key Takeaways

New Orleans employers may want to take proactive steps to manage the effects of this new law on their workplaces. Some of those steps might include:

  • amending policies and job descriptions to minimize potential claims of discrimination based on an individual’s natural hair or hairstyle;
  • adding hairstyle awareness to antidiscrimination training;
  • training supervisors on how to address hairstyles in the workplace; and
  • reviewing interview and onboarding materials to comply with the new ordinance.