Bills prohibiting natural hair discrimination fail to make it through Louisiana Legislature

Bill protecting Black hairstyles continues through legislature
Louisiana State Sen. Troy Carter introduced a bill that would prohibit "race discrimination based on natural hairstyles." The bill would protect Black women who don't want to use chemicals or heat to straighten their hair in order to get or keep employment. Carter's bill has been approved by the Louisiana Senate and was approved Thursday by the Louisiana House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations. (Stock photo by Shutterstock)

Black employees will not be getting protection against discrimination for wearing their natural hair to work this year.

All the bills that would have prohibited race-based discrimination of natural hairstyles died in the Louisiana Legislature this session. House Bill 382, authored by Rep. Candace Newell (D-New Orleans), failed to pass in the Louisiana House last month on a 46-48 vote. House Bill 189, authored by Rep. Tammy Phelps (D-Shreveport), died in committee in April, and Senate Bill 61, sponsored by then-state Sen. Troy Carter (D-New Orleans), which passed unanimously in the Louisiana Senate, went nowhere after Carter left for Congress.

The bills were a part of the CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) — a national campaign that began in 2019 as a collaboration between the soap manufacturer Dove and three nonprofits: the National Urban League, Color Of Change, and Western Center on Law and Poverty. The campaign argues that people ought to be allowed to wear their hair the texture it naturally grows out of their heads. More specifically, the campaign argues that Black women should not be forced by their employers to use chemicals to straighten their hair. 

California passed the first CROWN Act in 2019, and nine other states have followed. The campaign started the year after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a Black woman’s complaint that she had been racially discriminated against by a company that cited her short dreadlocks as a reason not to hire her.

In an interview with the Illuminator Thursday, Newell said she got commitments from about 10 representatives who voted against her legislation to change their vote, but “none of them wanted to bring the motion to have it reconsidered.” 

Bills that are rejected in the House need a representative who voted against the bill to make the motion to reconsider it.

Newell said the bill dying hurt her because the legislation “would take away another aspect of discrimination that we have in our workforce and in our school.”

“As a representative, I’m supposed to represent people who I may not be able to relate to but understand their struggle,” Newell said. “And I guess I foolishly or naively thought my colleagues felt the same way about protecting all citizens from all forms of discrimination.”

In committee last month, Rep. Larry Frieman (R-Abita Springs) told Newell her bill was an example of lawmakers “over-legislating” because there are already laws against race discrimination.

But there aren’t laws protecting people against wearing their hair in their natural texture, and hair texture is related to race.

Newell informed Frieman of recent court case involving a Black woman who was fired because her hair was deemed unprofessional.  She sued the employer who fired her, but she lost, Newell said, because her hairstyle wasn’t protected by current discrimination laws.

When Carter was presenting his bill at a House committee meeting last month, Rep. Valarie Hodges (R-Denham Springs) and Rep. Dodie Horton (R-Haughton), two White women, asked that the bill be amended to carve out an exemption for businesses with grooming rules.

“I just don’t want to take a business’s ability away to create their own standards no matter who it is,” Horton said.

Carter, who’s Black, said, “I don’t think you’d like it if you walked into the Capitol tomorrow and Speaker (Clay) Schexnayder said, ‘Straight hair is no longer allowed here.’ You would have a bill to say, ‘Wait a minute.’”

“I don’t live in a world and wasn’t raised in one that was prejudiced against someone,” Horton said.

Phelps and Newell told a reporter Thursday that they plan to reintroduce the legislation next session.

“I know it’s going to be the same struggle because my colleagues don’t want to protect the individual. They’re more or less protecting the business and the business owner as opposed to the employees,” Newell said. “So I have my work cut out for me just trying to educate them.”