Montgomery County became the first local jurisdiction to prohibit discrimination on the basis of natural hairstyles with the passage this week of the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act.

The bill, which the County Council passed unanimously, would add a definition of race to the underlying anti-discrimination law to specify that race includes “traits historically associated with race, including hair texture and protective hairstyles,” according to a council press release.

“Protective hairstyles” are those styles that are considered to be the result of, or necessary because of, the inherent characteristics of hair texture associated with race.

“This bill will say with a resounding voice that discrimination on the basis of natural hair is race discrimination,” Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At Large) said prior to the vote. “We heard compelling testimony a couple of weeks ago from more than a dozen county residents and others about how this issue has impacted them.”

Jawando and Council President Nancy Navarro (D-4th District) were the bill’s lead cosponsors. Bill 30-19 would allow individuals who are discriminated against because of their hair’s appearance could seek a civil penalty of up to $5,000 through the county’s Office of Human Rights.

“Employees should not have to fear retaliation for simply choosing a hairstyle,” Navarro said in the release. “As a mother of two amazing Afro-Latina daughters, I know the struggles of a society that puts arbitrary constraints on one of the most personal expressions of culture and ethnicity—a person’s hairstyle.”

The legislation also covers discrimination in public accommodations, taxi services, admissions to group homes and cable services.

New York and California this summer passed similar legislation, which recently has also been introduced in Wisconsin, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, Michigan and Illinois.

Councilmember Will Jawando, with Council President Nancy Navarro to his left, at the introduction of the CROWN Act. Photo courtesy Councilmember Jawando.

Mike Diegel