Michigan Expands Civil Rights Act to Ban Hairstyle Discrimination
Clark Hill Summer Associate Alexis Zerbst contributed to this article.
On June 15, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill into law amending Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (“ELCRA”) to expand the definition of race to ban natural hairstyle discrimination. The amendment went into effect immediately.
This amendment added to ELCRA what other states call the CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” According to the Governor’s office, Michigan becomes the 23rd state to enact its own version of the CROWN Act after California first did so in 2019.
ELCRA prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, marital status, and sexual orientation. However, “race” was not previously defined under ELCRA. Now, with the bill’s passage, subsection (j) defines “race” as follows:
“Race” is inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles. For purposes of this definition, “protective hairstyles” includes, but is not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.
Just like any other protected status, this new definition of “race” bars discrimination in housing, employment, education, and public accommodations contexts because of a person’s natural hair.
As a result of this amendment, employers should review their handbooks and policies to ensure that they comply with this amendment. Specifically, if employers have appearance policies, such as a dress code or a grooming policy, these should be reviewed to ensure compliance with this amendment. These types of policies are generally legal when they allow appearances that encourage safety in the workplace and allow appearances that reasonably relate to your business. However, employers should make sure that these types of policies are not overly detailed, otherwise they could be misconstrued as discriminatory or be seen as having a disparate impact against protected classes.
As always, employers should remain diligent by investigating all complaints of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
Additionally, a federal CROWN Act was introduced in 2022 and passed the House but stalled in the Senate. This is yet another potential new law to keep an eye out for. Clark Hill PLC will continue to monitor developments in the law and share any future updates. In the meantime, Clark Hill attorneys are prepared to assist you in reviewing your policies and making any necessary changes.
For more information, please contact Vincent Sallan at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Clark Hill attorney with whom you regularly work.
The views and opinions expressed in the article represent the view of the authors and not necessarily the official view of Clark Hill PLC. Nothing in this article constitutes professional legal advice nor is it intended to be a substitute for professional legal advice.
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