Michigan is the latest state to expand its legal definition of race as a protected class to include hairstyle descriptors. As we recently explained, legislation with the acronym for “Creating a Respectful and Open Work for Natural Hair” is intended to protect from discrimination individuals with hairstyles often associated with race.

On June 15, 2023, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Michigan’s version of the CROWN Act – S.B. 90 – into law, once again amending the state’s increasingly broad anti-discrimination statute, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (“ELCRA”). The Michigan CROWN Act represents the third amendment to ELCRA this year: prohibitions on discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression were added in March, and protections for individuals who have an abortion were provided by amendments enacted in May.

The Michigan CROWN Act adds specific language to the definitions section of ELCRA, defining the word “‘[r]ace’ as inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles. For purposes of this definition, ‘protective hairstyles’ includes, but is not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.” In contrast to the other ELCRA amendments enacted this year, the CROWN Act took effect immediately.

Several jurisdictions within Michigan already have enacted similar laws. The Ingham County Board of Commissioners was the first governing body in the state to declare traits such as hair texture and protective hairstyles as part of the term “race,” adopting a resolution in March, 2021. The City of Ann Arbor added similar language to its non-discrimination ordinance in June, 2022. 

Now that discrimination on the basis of hairstyle is prohibited throughout the state, Michigan employers should carefully review their policies to ensure that none are inconsistent with the law. In particular, employers should evaluate and revise any dress code requirements or rules concerning grooming and personal appearance, as needed.

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