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Cuomo Signature Makes It Official: Ethnic Hair Is Protected

New York City

Ethnic Hair
July 16, 2019

With a stroke of his pen, Governor Andrew Cuomo has formally added ethnic hairstyles to the traits that define race under the Human Rights Law, the New York Post reports. Cuomo’s signature makes New York one of the first states – following California’s lead – to ban discrimination based on ethnic hairstyles.

The new law amends the Human Rights Law by adding “traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and protective hairstyles” to the definition of race.

“For much of our nation’s history, people of color – particularly women – have been marginalized and discriminated against simply because of their hair style or texture,” Cuomo said. “By signing this bill into law, we are taking an important step toward correcting that history and ensuring people of color are protected from all forms of discrimination.”

Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright, a Brooklyn Democrat, says the law is overdue. “As a black woman who prioritizes equity, and has worn my natural for 17 years, this bill is deeply personal for me,” Wright said. “A legislative fix was in order.”

The New York City Commission on Human Rights had already issued guidelines regarding racial discrimination on the basis of hairstyles. The city’s Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination practices in employment against people in numerous protected classes, and it covers employers with four or more employees, including co-op and condo boards. An independent contractor who works “in furtherance of an employer’s business enterprise” is counted as an employee under the law. If your co-op or condominium hires independent contractors to maintain landscaping at your property, for example, there’s an argument to be made that those workers will count as employees under the Human Rights Law.

An individual claiming race discrimination can either file a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights within one year of the allegedly discriminatory act, or file a complaint in the state courts within three years of the allegedly discriminatory act. The law has teeth. The commission can fine a board up to $250,000, and there is no cap on damages.

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