The House passed a bill Friday that would ban race-based hair discrimination at work, federal programs and public accommodations.
The CROWN Act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act, passed along party lines with a vote of 235-189. The bill now heads to the Senate for a vote.
"For too long, Black girls have been discriminated against and criminalized for the hair that grows on our heads and the way we move through and show up in this world," Rep. Ayanna Pressley said on the House floor Friday.
Congressional action on race-based hair discrimination comes after years of advocates pushing for policy change at the national level.
Several states have already implemented their own versions of the CROWN Act. On Thursday, Massachusetts became the latest state to pass a local ban on hair discrimination.
"Hair discrimination is rooted in systemic racism, and its purpose is to preserve white spaces," the NAACP says. "Policies that prohibit natural hairstyles, like afros, braids, bantu knots, and locs, have been used to justify the removal of Black children from classrooms, and Black adults from their employment."
A 2019 study conducted by the JOY Collective said Black women were 80% more likely to feel pressure to change their hairstyles in order to fit in at the office.
Federal protection is still needed, the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund said. That extra mile would give Black people a legal safety net from consequences at school or work for their natural hair.
More than a decade in the making
A prior attempt at taking hair discrimination complaints to court failed.
In May 2010, Chastity C. Jones, who was hired to work as a customer service representative with Catastrophe Management Solutions in Alabama, lost her job offer after she refused a human resources request for Jones to cut her dreadlocks.
A lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against CMS ultimately failed. An Alabama district court ruled CMS's refusal to hire Jones because she wore dreadlocks didn't violate federal civil rights law.
A narrow Democratic majority in the Senate may not be enough to get the CROWN Act approved despite President Biden expressing strong support for the bill.
The White House said, "The President believes that no person should be denied the ability to obtain a job, succeed in school or the workplace, secure housing, or otherwise exercise their rights based on a hair texture or hairstyle."