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Legal Insider: Virginia Human Rights Act Now Prohibits Race Discrimination Based on Hairstyle

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

As many have heard, as of July 1, 2020, the new Virginia Human Rights Act began to provide new protections from discrimination for employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. A lesser-known form of discrimination was also prohibited as of that date, which prohibits race discrimination based on hairstyle. Governor Northam signed the VHRA into law on March 4, 2020.

The Virginia legislature, in amending the VHRA, included a ban on discrimination “because of or on the basis of traits historically associated with race, including hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists.”

Governor Northam stated, in approving the law: “It’s pretty simple — if we send children home from school because their hair looks a certain way, or otherwise ban certain hairstyles associated with a particular race — that is discrimination… This is not only unacceptable and wrong, it is not what we stand for in Virginia. This bill will make our Commonwealth more equitable and welcoming for all.” The Governor’s press release also cited to comments by Virginia Delegate McQuinn: “A person’s hair is a core part of their identity… Nobody deserves to be discriminated against simply due to the hair type they were born with, or the way in which they choose to wear it. The acceptance of one’s self is the key to accepting others.”

The Commonwealth of Virginia is now the fourth state to ban race-based hairstyle discrimination after California, New Jersey and New York passed similar laws. Colorado is in the process of enacting a similar law presently, and more than 20 other states have similar legislation proposed or pending.

This new legislation is likely to need to a 2-3 year period of adjustment as employers in Virginia start to realize that such forms of discrimination are against the law either through the complaint process or in court. A link to the new Virginia law is located here.

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