Natural Hair Discrimination is Illegal in the District

Natural Hair Styles

This past summer, California and New York passed legislation to protect its residents from discrimination based on their hair styles. This type of discrimination has disproportionately affected Black Americans who have historically had to endure implicit and explicit bias with regard to their natural hair. In fact, a recent survey found that Black women are 80 percent more likely to feel they must change their natural hair to fit in at the workplace.

While California and New York were recently lauded in news reports as the first two states to pass hair style protections, the District banned this type of discrimination nearly 42 years ago with the passage of the D.C. Human Rights Act (HRA) in 1977. The District’s HRA has long been one of the strongest civil rights laws in the country, prohibiting discrimination based on protected traits in employment, housing, educational institutions, and public accommodations (businesses and other facilities that are generally open to the public). There are 21 protected traits covered by the HRA, including race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and personal appearance.

Here is a detailed explanation about how the District’s Human Rights Act protects against discrimination based on hair styles:

Are hair styles protected under the HRA?
Yes! Under the HRA, personal appearance is a protected trait, which includes hair styles and beards. This means you cannot be discriminated against for having a beard, curls, locs, Bantu knots, fades, twists, afros, braids, wigs, or other hair styles.

What are some examples of hair discrimination?
Some examples of natural hair discrimination can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • An employer not hiring a qualified applicant because they wear their hair in braids
  • An employer requiring Black employees to obtain approval before changing hair styles, but not requiring approval for other employees
  • A restaurant refusing to serve a patron because they wear their hair in locs
  • A school sending a student home because they have a beard

Are there any exceptions where hair style is not protected by the HRA?
Employers or places of public accommodation can set requirements for cleanliness, uniforms, or other standards, so long as they are for a reasonable purpose and are applied consistently to everyone.

Also, hair styles are not protected if they present danger to the health, welfare, or safety of any individual. For example, this means that an employer can require food service workers to wear hair nets or assembly line workers to use hair ties that hold hair away from machinery.

How can I report suspected discrimination?
If you believe you have been a victim of discrimination, you may report it OAG by:

The District’s Office of Human Rights (OHR) is the primary District agency that investigates individual complaints of discrimination. You can also file a complaint with OHR by calling (202) 727-4559 or filling out their online complaint form.

OAG protects the civil rights of District residents by bringing lawsuits to challenge discrimination, advocating for legislation to strengthen anti-discrimination laws, and engaging in educational community outreach so that residents know their rights. Learn more about illegal discrimination and how OAG is working to defend your civil rights.