Washington Amends its Law Against Discrimination to Provide Protections for Hair Textures and Styles as Traits Associated with “Race.”
On March 19, 2020, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed into law Washington House of Representatives Bill 2602 (HB 2602), which amends the Washington Law Against Discrimination to include a definition of “race.” The amendment, which is scheduled to go into effect on June 10, 2020, defines “race” as being “inclusive of traits historically associated or perceived to be associated with race including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles. […] ‘[P]rotective hairstyles’ includes, but is not limited to, such hairstyles as afros, braids, locks, and twists.”
Among several reasons cited by the Washington Legislature for this addition is the need to clarify the extent of Washington’s civil rights law, specifically that it prohibits discrimination in employment and public accommodation based on characteristics “historically associated or perceived to be associated with race.” In its legislative report, the House recognized that “[h]air discrimination remains a source of racial injustice with serious emotional and economic consequences for Black people.” The House said HB2602 seeks to correct this by making hair discrimination illegal in Washington.
At the national level, on January 8, 2020, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced Senate Bill 3167, the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act of 2019 (CROWN Act), which would offer protections for hairstyles associated with race. The bill is currently being considered by the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
By adopting HB 2602, Washington has joined California, Colorado, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia in enacting legislation adding hair textures and styles associated with race to their laws against discrimination. However, Washington’s amendment goes beyond the laws of those other jurisdictions to include traits “perceived to be associated with race,” [emphasis added] and it is not limited to hairstyles, as it includes all traits associated with race.
Other states are considering similar legislation.