Carmelyn Malalis and Wendy Greene Fought and Won the NYC Hair Discrimination Law

NYCCHR Chair/Commissioner Carmelyn Malalis and law professor Wendy Greene fought against the racial discrimination, stigmatization, and segregation of natural hair—and won.

“Historically speaking, these particular hairstyles or the particular hair texture that African descendants largely possess has been radicalized,” Greene explained. “It has been the basis of racial exclusion, a basis of racial stigmatization, and a basis of racial segregation not only in the United States, but around the world.”

Greene’s longtime academic work has focused on workplace grooming codes and racial discrimination.

“My work is really trying to convey and communicate that straight hair, loced hair, braided hair, twisted hair, all hair is good hair,” she explained.

Her advocacy helped inform the February 2019 NYC ban on discrimination on the basis of hair.

“There is so much about hair or not having hair that are so foundational to so many people’s identity,” Malalis said. “And if hair is such an important part of you, just like your skin, your you know, your voice, why would we not think of that as being part of somebody’s identity of their lived experience.

The new legal enforcement guidance specifically bans targeting people at work, school, or in public spaces based on hair or hairstyles. Those styles include locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and treated or un-treated natural hairstyles. Defendants could face a penalty of up to $250,000 with no cap on damages.

“Discrimination against Black hair or Black hairstyles is race discrimination,” Malalis explained. “And that is something I’m really hoping other jurisdictions will follow with.”