New York City vows to end hairstyle discrimination after 'racist stereotypes'

18 February 2019, 21:00 | Updated: 18 February 2019, 22:00

New guidelines have been introduced in New York City to stop hairstyle discrimination.

Employers have been warned they could face legal action for banning styles associated with black people, such as afros, dreadlocks or corn rows, or for instructing black workers to straighten their hair.

Numerous schools until now have banned dreadlocks, afros and other hairstyles.

The legal guidance says existing human rights law protects New Yorkers' right to "maintain natural hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic or cultural identities".

Although the protections apply to everyone, they were prompted mainly by "racist stereotypes that black hairstyles are unprofessional", the NYC Commission on Human Rights said.

The commission's chairwoman Carmelyn P Malalis tweeted after releasing the guidelines: "Hair is a part of you. Race discrimination based on hair is illegal in NYC."

The guidance in effect enables people to take companies and organisations to court if they have been harassed or punished in workplaces, schools or public spaces because of their hair texture or style.

However, hair nets and bands can still be required for health and safety reasons.

In December, a white referee sparked uproar when he told a black New Jersey high school wrestler to cut his dreadlocks before a match or forfeit it.

Although the teenager had his hair cut, many criticised the demand, including the state's governor and an Olympic wrestler.

Last year, the Supreme Court refused to hear a discrimination case involving a black Alabama woman who said she was sacked from her job because she refused to cut her dreadlocks.

An appeal found in favour of the employer and said federal law protects people from discrimination based on "immutable characteristics, but not their cultural practices".

New York City's human rights law is distinct from federal anti-discrimination law.

Ms Malalis said: "There's nothing keeping us from calling out these policies prohibiting natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with black people."