Minnesota House passes ‘Crown Act’ hair discrimination bill

Published 6:17 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2022

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota House of Representatives passed legislation with bipartisan support Monday that would make it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their hairstyle.

The “Crown” Act, an acronym meaning “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair,” would add hairstyle and texture to a provision in the Minnesota Human Rights Act that prohibits racial discrimination in housing, employment and education, among other areas.

Rep. Esther Agbaje, of Minneapolis, the bill’s author, said the legislation adds explicit language on hair-based discrimination to make it easier for judges that have discrimination cases come before them and to simplify the complaint process.

The bill passed 104-25.

“At the heart of this bill is the ability to allow more people to show up as their authentic selves in school or in the workplace without fear of repercussions because of their hair,” Agbaje said on the House floor before the vote Monday afternoon.

Agbaje cited an incident when an employer banned hairstyles worn by Black employees like afros, braids and dreadlocks, and proceeded to fire employees who refused to cut their hair once the policy was put in place. The bill, she said, would prevent such incidents while removing added stress felt by Black employees and students to conform in the workplace by using chemicals to straighten their hair.

Fourteen states have enacted similar laws against hair discrimination, according to a coalition of organizations campaigning for the legislation.

On the federal level, Minnesota Democratic U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar last year joined four Black congresswomen in reintroducing the legislation in the House and sending a letter to Vice President Kamala Harris asking for her support. Democratic U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, has reintroduced a companion bill in the Senate.

Democratic state Rep. Rena Moran, of St. Paul, authored a Crown Act bill that passed in 2020, though it was not considered in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Democratic Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, of Minneapolis, author of this year’s Senate version, said he believes the “environment is ripe” due to the upcoming election and the focus on racial discrimination and inequities in Minnesota since the death of George Floyd.

“I think that we in Minnesota have been through a lot in order to understand that we have to be a much more inclusive Minnesota, whether it was George Floyd, whether it was other well-documented challenges that we have experienced,” he said. “We have always, as Minnesotans, been on the forefront of doing the right thing and we are appealing to that higher calling for Minnesotans — especially in the Senate — to do the right thing.”

Champion told reporters that he has requested hearings in the judiciary and civil law committees to try to get movement on the bill. Champion also said he’s had discussions with Republican and Democratic colleagues in the Senate to garner support, as well as with Democratic Gov. Tim Walz on end-of-session possibilities to advance the bill.