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Minnesota Passes CROWN Act Protecting Natural Hair in the Workplace

On January 27, 2023, the Minnesota Senate passed the CROWN Act, or Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act, which prohibits race-based hair discrimination. The bill which passed with a 45-19 vote, is expected to be signed into law by Governor Tim Walz.

Minnesota joins many states across the nation that have passed some form of CROWN Act. In doing so, the Act expands the Minnesota Human Rights Act’s definition of “race” to include “traits associated with race.” Specifically, the CROWN Act now prohibits discrimination based on hair texture and styles, such as braids, locs, and twists. However, the CROWN Act’s expanded definition of race may extend beyond hair texture and style.

The bill comes in response to a national movement that seeks to safeguard employees whose natural hair styles were treated as “unprofessional” or otherwise violated some employers’ dress code policies. Race has long been a protected category under the MHRA; however, hair styles and texture has never been explicitly addressed, despite their potential to function as a proxy for race-based discrimination. Indeed, some courts have held that federal civil rights law does not extend to characteristics associated with race, such as hair texture and style.

With this new clarification, employers should evaluate their current dress code, handbook, and other internal policies that address professional appearance to ensure they comply with the new law. Additionally, employers should also apprise human resource and hiring managers of this update to ensure concerns regarding appearance are properly addressed.

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