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.
Although not widespread, ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on natural hairstyles and textures are not completely foreign to Florida, and amidst a perceived rise in “anti-wokeness,” employers in the Sunshine State must remember the sun has not set on local governments’ ability to impose liability for discrimination based on natural hairstyles and textures.
To date, Broward County and the City of Miami Beach have passed local laws prohibiting discrimination based on hairstyle and hair texture. These ordinances have a wider reach than Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA), and they enable employees to bring claims before local administrative bodies, sometimes at great expense to employers.
Below, we explore the state’s history of hair texture and hairstyle legislation and offer employers tips on how to help ensure compliance with local laws.
Broward County Ordinance No. 2020-45
In December 2020, Broward County amended its human rights ordinance to include hairstyles as a protected characteristic, becoming the only county in Florida to prohibit discrimination based on natural hairstyle and texture and allowing employees to bring claims for discrimination based on hairstyles historically associated with race, including braids, locks, and twists. The ordinance applies to employers with five or more employees.
City of Miami Beach Ordinance No. 2022-4517
On October 26, 2022, the City of Miami Beach followed in Broward County’s footsteps and became the first city in Florida to prohibit discriminatory practices in employment based on the texture or style of a person’s hair.1 Similar to Broward County’s, the new ordinance applies to employers with five or more employees and covers an individual’s hair textures and hairstyles commonly associated with a particular race or national origin (such as a hairstyle in which hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled, locks, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, and Afros). This ordinance expands the city’s preexisting human rights ordinance, which also prohibits discrimination based on weight and height.
Importance of These Ordinances
Although efforts to enact similar legislation at the state level have been unsuccessful, the Broward County and Miami Beach ordinances are important reminders that Florida employers must not assume the law is the same in every part of the state. Employers are also cautioned against assuming they are not subject to anti-discrimination laws simply because they are smaller employers outside the purview of Title VII and the FCRA. As stated above, these ordinances apply to employers with five or more employees, whereas Title VII and the FCRA require at least 15 employees.
Failure to comply with these local ordinances can prove costly, particularly for smaller employees. Both ordinances allow employees to bring claims before their respective administrative bodies and contemplate referrals to appropriate state or federal agencies for further investigation and action. In Broward, depending on the investigation’s findings, the County could choose to file an action against the employer to vindicate the public interest.
Broward employers that violate the ordinance may be liable for actual damages incurred by the aggrieved person and reasonable costs and attorney's fees, reinstatement or front pay if reinstatement is not available, and injunctive relief.
In Miami Beach, employers that violate the ordinance may be subject to fines between $1,000 and $15,000. Further, employers that hold an occupational license issued by the city may have their license revoked, and those doing business with the city may have their contracts cancelled, ultimately at great expense to the employer.
While the Broward County and the City of Miami Beach ordinances are exceptions in Florida, they are part of a growing trend among other states and localities, which other Florida cities could join, especially as another election year approaches.
As the country continues to see a nationwide push for legislation prohibiting discrimination based on hairstyles and textures historically associated with race, Florida employers should familiarize themselves with the various local requirements and ensure their internal policies align with applicable law. Employers should review their equal employment opportunity, anti-harassment, and anti-discrimination policies, as well as policies concerning personal appearance, dress code, and grooming.
When complying with industry-specific safety concerns and OSHA regulations, employers should aim to implement non-discriminatory measures that accommodate, to the extent possible, individual hairstyles and textures.
Training is always an effective tool against discrimination in the workplace. Florida employers that wish to provide training on these ordinances and other anti-discrimination laws, however, are encouraged to consult with their employment counsel before delivering such training. Recent developments in Florida law, including amendments to Section 760.10, Florida Statutes, create potential landmines for employers that deliver workplace training on topics such as diversity, implicit bias, and systemic racism, and although training is not prohibited, employers should be aware of mitigating measures they can implement to continue educating their employees while avoiding potential violations of other Florida laws.
*Elizabeth Stewart is a Summer Associate in Littler’s Miami and Orlando offices.
1 City of Miami Beach Human Rights Ordinance, Ord. No. 2022-4517 (Enacted Oct. 26, 2022).