Natural Hairstyle Discrimination Protections Passed in Kentucky and Beyond

On May 12, 2023, Lexington became the fourth city in Kentucky to protect hairstyles under its local anti-discrimination ordinances. The Lexington CROWN Act (Ordinance No. 49-2023), an acronym for "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair," expands the definitions of race, religion, and national origin discrimination to include an individual’s natural hair texture, color, head coverings, and protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists, cornrows, Bantu Knots, and afros. Though the City Council explained its legislative purpose with reference to the impact of hair style discrimination in educational contexts, among others, the text of the ordinance limits its application to discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and housing.

Lexington’s ordinance follows in the footsteps of Frankfort, Louisville, and Covington, Kentucky, which are the only other cities in Kentucky to have passed their own versions of the CROWN Act. Lexington’s ordinance is largely similar to Covington’s (Ordinance No. 23-2020; enacted October 27, 2020), but Frankfort’s (Ordinance No. 8-2023; enacted March 27, 2023) and Louisville’s (Ordinance No. 84-2021; enacted July 15, 2021) have some important differences to keep in mind. Frankfort and Louisville expand only the definition of national origin discrimination and clarify that discrimination includes the unwanted touching of hair. Whether these differences will have significant effects on enforcement remains to be seen.

These four local Kentucky jurisdictions join a growing number of jurisdictions across the country to ban hairstyle discrimination. At least 20 states and over 40 localities have enacted some form of the CROWN Act. Accordingly, as Littler has previously recommended, employers in Kentucky and beyond should consider the following steps to ensure legal compliance and create more inclusive workplaces:

  • Review and update dress codes and grooming policies to ensure that they are both (1) clearly connected to the company’s business interests and (2) inclusive of hair texture and hairstyles connected to racial and ethnic identity, as well as religion and gender identity.
  • Employers may require professional appearance in the workplace but should refrain from completely banning or restricting particular hairstyles. For instance, employers should avoid instituting policies:
    • specifically prohibiting twists, locs, braids, cornrows, Afros, Bantu knots, or fades, which are styles commonly “associated with Black people.”
    • requiring employees to alter the state of their hair to conform to the company’s appearance standards, including having to straighten or relax hair (i.e., through the use of chemicals or heat).
    • banning hair that extends a certain number of inches from the scalp, thereby limiting Afros.
    • restricting employees from holding specific roles (such as customer-facing positions) based on an employee’s or applicant’s hairstyle.
  • In the case of health and safety concerns, employers should aim to implement non-discriminatory measures (such as hairnets or hair ties) and should identify options that will accommodate various hair textures and styles. Employers should ensure that dress codes and grooming policies are applied consistently. 
  • Train employees, especially supervisors, managers, and anyone who makes hiring decisions, on the organization’s dress and grooming policies, as well as their EEO policies.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.