Washington House votes overwhelmingly to ban hair discrimination

  • Fri Feb 14th, 2020 4:30pm
  • News

OLYMPIA — Washington students and workers with hairstyles like afros and dreadlocks couldn’t be required to cut or change their hair under a bill that passed the state House on a bipartisan vote Wednesday.

Under a bill sent to the Senate on an 87-10 vote, the House agreed to ban discrimination on hair style or texture, adding “traits historically associated or perceived to be associated to race” to protections against racial discrimination under state law.

Rep. Jim Walsh of Aberdeen was one of the 10 Republicans to vote against the bill.

Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Parkland, said African American women have for years tried straightening their hair with harsh chemicals to conform to European views of what’s proper in the workplace. Traditional African American styles have been described as unprofessional and unsanitary, she said.

California, New York and New Jersey already prohibit discrimination based on hair styles or textures, she added.

“However your hair comes out of your head … you should not face discrimination because of that,” said Rep. Debra Entenman, D-Kent.

Entenman, who is African American, said she’s always viewed hair as an “accessory” but has been trying new hairstyles for the past year and listening to the reaction. On Wednesday, she said it was “as it naturally occurs.”

Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, proposed an amendment that would allow employers to require “uniform, professional grooming standards” for all employees, arguing that wouldn’t be discriminatory because all workers would be held to the same standards. That seemed to be more in line with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s hope of people being judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, he argued.

The bill could create more racial division, not less, and the nation needs to heal, said Klippert, who is white but told House members that when he lived in North Carolina “my best friend was a black man.”

Rep. Christine Kilduff, D-University Place, said the amendment wasn’t needed. The state can’t set standards for the military, and the bill only applies to schools and civilian workplaces. A company that cites a legitimate reason for a policy against certain hairstyles would be protected from a discrimination claim, she added.

Klippert’s amendment was defeated on a voice vote.