Local Politics

Durham ordinance bans employers from discriminating based on hairstyle

Posted January 19, 2021 5:26 p.m. EST
Updated January 19, 2021 10:32 p.m. EST

— Durham on Tuesday became one of the first cities in North Carolina to ban discrimination based on hairstyle.

Although the ordinance the City Council passed unanimously applies to men and women, the issue is especially familiar to Black women, who say their natural hair is often discouraged by employers.

"It is absolutely a form of racial discrimination," said Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry, who is helping draw up a "needed and well-timed" local ordinance.

"There's probably a very, very small percentage of Black women who can tell you that they haven't felt some form of discrimination based on how they've chosen to wear their hair," Deberry said. "Your grooming is talked about when you go out on [job] interviews."

Kito Jones, who owns Lavish Hair Spa in Durham, said no one should have to mess with caustic hair straighteners to go to school or get a job. She recalled a client who was a neurosurgeon and felt so pressured to conform that she used hair relaxers, only to have her hair start falling out.

"She was the only woman of color," Jones said. "It did cause her to continue to wear her hair with chemicals in a straightened pattern so there was an acceptance, so to speak, amongst her colleagues."

Deberry said she will never forget a court clerk pulling her aside early in her career and suggesting that she "reconsider the way I was wearing my hair."

"I literally wear my hair the way it grows out of my head," Deberry said. "Everybody should have the opportunity to do that."

Jones said a professional look can have twists and curls.

"Companies have really missed out as a result of simply discriminating against hairstyle choices," she said. "It's OK the way God made you, that your abilities [and] your intellect should be considered for employment."

The City Council also is expected to pass a resolution on Thursday in support of Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair, known as the CROWN Act. The U.S. House passed the legislation last year, and Durham officials want to lend their support to a national effort to push the U.S. Senate to act on it, as well as pressure the General Assembly to pass a statewide hair discrimination ban.

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