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Chairman Nadler Statement for the Markup of H.R. 5309, the CROWN Act of 2019

Washington, September 15, 2020

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, during the markup of H.R. 5309, the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act of 2019 or the CROWN Act of 2019: 

"Today, the Judiciary Committee considers H.R. 5309, the 'Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act of 2019' or 'CROWN Act of 2019.'  This important bill explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of hair texture or hairstyles commonly associated with a particular race or national origin in employment, housing, federally-funded programs, public accommodations, and the making and enforcement of contracts. 

"To be clear, it is my view that existing civil rights statutes that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race or national origin already make such kind of hair-based discrimination unlawful.

"The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agrees, having issued guidance interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination based on hairstyle or hair texture as a form of race discrimination in certain circumstances.  Unfortunately, several federal courts have erroneously rejected this interpretation, which is why we are here to mark up the CROWN Act today.

"This legislation will leave no ambiguity that in key areas where federal law prohibits race and national origin discrimination, discrimination based on an individual’s hair texture or hairstyle—if they are commonly associated with a particular race or national origin—is unlawful.

"The history of discrimination based on race and national origin in this country is unfortunately older than the country itself, and we are still living with the consequences today.

"Congress took a pivotal step in the fight against racism and discrimination when it passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race and national origin, as well as other characteristics, in key areas of life.  This law did not eliminate discrimination entirely—one cannot legislate away hate—but it provided critical recourse for those who face discrimination and it made clear that the government has a compelling interest in fighting discrimination.

"We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that discrimination is no longer alive and well, however; the recent protests over police brutality and systemic racism have forced many who would rather look the other way to confront the continuing and pervasive legacy of racism in our country.  While racism and discrimination still take many blatantly obvious forms, they can also manifest themselves in more subtle ways.   One form is discrimination based on natural hairstyles and hair textures associated with people of African descent.

"According to a 2019 study of Black and non-Black women conducted by the JOY Collective, Black people are 'disproportionately burdened by policies and practices in public places, including the workplace, that target, profile, or single them out for natural hair styles' and other hairstyles traditionally associated with their race, like braids, locs, and twists.  Often, these hairstyles are protective hairstyles—hairstyles that tuck the ends of one’s hair away and minimize manipulation and exposure to the weather—and can play an important role in helping keep one’s hair healthy.

"These findings are bolstered by numerous reports of incidents in recent years showing that this form of discrimination is common.  For example, in 2017, a Banana Republic employee was told by a manager that she had violated the company’s dress code because her box braids were too 'urban' and 'unkempt.'

"A year later, a New Jersey high school student was forced by a white referee to either have his dreadlocks cut or forfeit a wrestling match, ultimately leading to a league official humiliatingly cutting the student’s hair in public immediately before the match.  And that same year, an 11-year-old Black girl was asked to leave class at a school near New Orleans because her braided hair extensions violated the school’s policies.

"Unfortunately, research shows that such discrimination is pervasive.  The JOY Collective study found that Black women are more likely than non-Black women to have received formal grooming policies in the workplace and that “Black women’s hairstyles were consistently rated to be lower or ‘less ready’ for job performance” than non-Black women’s hairstyles by substantial margins.

"In view of these disturbing facts, seven states—California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, and Maryland—have enacted state versions of the CROWN Act, in every case with bipartisan support—sometimes even with the unanimous support of both parties.  While I applaud these states for taking this necessary step, this is a matter of basic justice that demands a national solution by Congress.

"I thank the gentleman from Louisiana, Representative Cedric Richmond, for introducing and championing this important bill, and for his leadership on this issue.  I support this legislation and I urge the Committee to report it favorably to the House."
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