TEMPE — The City of Tempe is gaining national attention for the recent passage of an ordinance that prohibits employment discrimination based on a person's hairstyle.
Named the CROWN act, the change is an addendum to an existing anti-discrimination ordinance passed in 2014 protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community and veterans.
From braids and twists, to afros and dreadlocks, African Americans for years have felt penalized and cut out of the job market for wearing natural hairstyles.
The issue was raised by community members Janet Hamlin and Candace Lindsay and brought to the attention of Tempe Mayor Corey Woods over the summer.
"People sometimes do have biases when they see someone with dreadlocks or cornrows or other types of hairstyles that they might not be as familiar with," Woods said.
Woods and Tempe City Council member Jennifer Adams vetted the language with the city's Human Relations Commission before taking it to the full council.
The CROWN act, which stands for Create A Respectful and Open World for Natural hair, passed unanimously on November 9.
"The reality is we all have different hairstyles and cultures and those need to be respected," Woods said. "Not just in Tempe, but throughout the entire state of Arizona and throughout our country," Woods said.
Lea Landrum Taylor served 16 consecutive years in the Arizona state legislature and now serves as President of the Phoenix chapter of Jack and Jill of America.
The organization recently hosted a seminar, teaching non-Black foster parents how to properly style and care for the hair of African American children.
Taylor let the kids know that, "Yes! It's okay to be you! It's okay to accept the fact that 'I love this hairstyle that I'm wearing.'"
The CROWN Act, she says, is a huge step forward.
"When you walk in, whether it's for a job interview, whether you are applying to a college, or whatever it is you might be doing, that should be the least of your concerns," Taylor said, referring to one's hairstyle.
The goal, Woods added, is to send a larger message that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated.
He said the city already has a Strategic Management and Diversity office in place to investigate any claims of discrimination, and employers that violate the ordinance can face fines between $1,500 to $2,500.
But Woods says they would rather educate than punish.
"We're really proud to take this step in the City of Tempe and really think it's a worthwhile addition to the anti-discrimination ordinance," Woods said.