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Judiciary panel OKs bill to amend MN Human Rights Act to prohibit hair discrimination

People in this country and in this state have experienced discrimination at school, at jobs, and elsewhere based solely on the appearance of their naturally occurring hair, according to Rep. Esther Agbaje (DFL-Mpls).

She sponsors a bill to specify that racial discrimination prohibited under the Minnesota Human Rights Act would include discrimination based on “traits associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and hair styles such as braids, locs, and twists.”

HF37 was approved, as amended, on a voice vote by the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee Thursday and sent to the House Floor.

While the bill would apply to all hairstyles, Black people have been particularly burdened by discrimination based on hair, said Agbaje, who has felt pressure to straighten her hair out of fear of losing a job or not being taken as seriously in the workplace.

“(The bill would) ensure that people have the freedom to show up as they are and who they are in schools and at work, and focus at the task at hand rather than worrying about if their hair will be the cause for the loss of an education, or the loss of earning an income,” Agbaje said.

A similar bill sponsored by Agbaje last session passed the House but was not acted on by the Senate.

The language in the bill comes from the CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” and been adopted by more than a dozen states.

“Black hair discrimination is racial discrimination,” said Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero.

Because courts decide discrimination cases based on explicit wording in laws, Lucero said it’s important the language be incorporated to provide clear guidance to judges that hair discrimination is real and is covered under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

Rep. Brian Johnson (R-Cambridge) asked whether the proposed changes would prevent employers from restricting certain hair styles based on existing laws on workplace health and safety.

Lucero said there would be no conflict with those laws as long as they were applied equally to all employees and not just those of one race.

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