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Lawrence, KS Passes CROWN Act Ordinance Banning Race-Based Hair Discrimination

ABSTRACT: Last month, the Lawrence City Commission passed a local ordinance, Ordinance No. 10003, which bans race-based hair discrimination in employment and other places of public accommodation, making it the first city in Kansas to do so. The ordinance prohibits restrictions or bans on natural hair or protective hairstyles (i.e., braids, locs, afros, curls and twists, etc.), declaring they violate the anti-discrimination regulations in Lawrence’s City Code.

The CROWN Act, which I posted about last year, stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”. Twenty-four states now have enacted some version of the CROWN Act into law. Kansas is not yet one of those states. Last month, however, the Lawrence City Commission passed a locate ordinance, Ordinance No. 10003, which bans race-based hair discrimination in employment and other places of public accommodation. Lawrence is the first city in the state of Kansas to pass a CROWN Act ordinance into law.

Kansas City, Missouri, Jackson County, Missouri, and St. Louis, Missouri already have enacted similar ordinances, although like Kansas, Missouri has not yet passed such legislation at the state level. A national version of the CROWN Act passed in the U.S. House in 2022 but failed in the Senate.

The Lawrence City Code already prohibited discrimination in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation on the basis of race, sex, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity, or familial status. The new ordinance expands the definition of “race” to prohibit discrimination based on a person’s hair texture or hairstyle.

You may recall Chick-Fil-A was in the news earlier last month for sending home a 16-year-old girl from a North Carolina restaurant for having “unnatural” hair color. She claimed she was informed her manager noticed blond in her hair, which the manger said was an unnatural color to her. The teen was sent home and told she had to take the blond out of hair and could return when it was gone. Management apparently further noted it understood that was a long process and might take her a while. The teen reportedly was embarrassed and has filed an EEOC Charge. See https://www.today.com/parents/teens/chick-fil-a-hair-color-teen-worker-rcna98590.

Also, yesterday afternoon, the Associate Press published an article about a black high school student in Texas, who was required to serve two weeks of in-school suspensions because of his hairstyle. This case is expected to test Texas’s newly enacted CROWN Act, which became effective on September 1, 2023. I would note the Lawrence ordinance does not directly apply to race-based hair discrimination in schools. It is anticipated that additional bills will be introduced during the next state legislative session to address race-based hair discrimination in Kansas schools.

The various CROWN Act laws that are continuing to be enacted at the local and state level are generally designed to eliminate exactly these types of situations from recurring.