Modern Day Discrimination

by Chandra C. Davis and Jordan Starks, Esq.

In 1979, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was enacted, and established the legal standard for discrimination in the workplace. Employees who were members of a protected class (race, national origin, sex, age, or disability) were given protection against discrimination in the workplace. However, these categories of protected class members did not contemplate how members of modern-day society might use Title VII’s protections. 

Can an employer discriminate based on non-sex related appearance? Title VII has recently become popular in cases that allege discrimination based on one’s appearance. Can an employer control how its workforce looks when employees come to work?

Hair Discrimination is No Longer Tolerated

Title VII has also recently become favored in cases that allege discrimination based on one’s hair grooming. Similar to when the Civil Rights legislation was brand new, many cases have been arguing that employer’s grooming requirements adversely impact employees of color. In other words, employer’s grooming policies use white employees’ appearance as the standard.  Several states have adopted legislation that combats the problem of grooming policies and practices that disproportionately subject people of color to discrimination.

California’s CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace) Act was the first such legislation to address discrimination based on appearance and hair. It was enacted to ensure people of color were not subjected to discrimination, in the workplace or at schools, due to grooming policies that disproportionately affected them.[1]  New York then developed the NYCHRL (New York City Human Rights Law), which provided similar protections against discrimination based on appearance and hair. The legislation bans employers from requiring employees to straighten or relax their hair. Under this law, employees cannot be required to alter their natural hair. These laws signaled the magnitude of this discrimination, creating an urge for employers to take a look at their grooming policies.

How Federal Government and States have Responded

While, The Supreme Court readies for a landmark case on LGBTQ rights, several states are leading the charge of human rights that go well beyond what federal laws contemplates. Nearly half of the states prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, while there is currently no federal law that protects members of the LGBTQ community in the workplace. States such as New York and California have been an example of how these progressive laws will look in the modern day.

Certain groups continue to be particularly susceptible to discrimination in the workplace. However, courts, legislators (federal, state, and city) are becoming more aggressive in combating these issues.  Given the upcoming Supreme Court cases and nationwide legislation, employers will have no choice but to adapt to the modern day, to remain ahead of the upcoming laws.

Please contact Chandra C. Davis at [email protected] for more information.

[1] The National Law Review, California First State to Clarify Definition of Race Discrimination to Include Hair Style.