Labor & Employment Law Daily For antidiscrimination purposes, ‘race’ will not include hairstyles in Nebraska
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Friday, August 21, 2020

For antidiscrimination purposes, ‘race’ will not include hairstyles in Nebraska

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The Nebraska governor vetoed L.B. 1060, objecting to the “mutable characteristics” of hairstyles and the bill’s lack of health and safety exceptions.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts has vetoed a bill that would expand the state law prohibition against discrimination based on race to include hair texture and protective hairstyles, typically worn by Blacks, saying that he agreed with the goal of the bill but objected to its form.

Definition of “race” expanded to hairstyles.Legislative Bill 1060 would have amended the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act to provide that “race” includes “hair texture and protective hairstyles,” and that “protective hairstyles” includes “hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists.”

Mutable characteristics.According to the Republican governor, the bill, as written, is based on “mutable characteristics that are not attributable to one racial group. While hair type is an immutable characteristic, hairstyles can easily be changed.” Ricketts also observed that the hairstyles named in the bill “are not exclusively worn by one race.”

No health or safety exceptions. The bill also does not provide any health or safety exceptions for employers, Ricketts pointed out. Here, the governor cited food service or heavy machinery workers who are often required to wear their hair a certain length or to tie back or cover their hair in order to ensure their safety, as well as the health and safety of the public.

Ricketts also observed that since the changes made under L.B. 1060 would apply to state agencies and political subdivisions, law enforcement agencies across the state would be precluded from maintaining long-standing personal grooming policies.

“Clearly, there is a need to provide appropriate protections for African Americans and others so that their unchangeable hair textures cannot be used as a reason for bias or discrimination in the workplace,” the governor wrote. “I am committed to working with the Legislature to enact a statute early in the upcoming session that will achieve this important purpose but in a manner that focuses on immutable race characteristics and provides employer flexibility.”

Veto override? Under the procedures of the Nebraska’s Legislature’s unicameral system, the governor’s veto may be overridden, but 30 senators would need to cast override votes. This would require greater support than the 27 votes that the bill mustered at its final reading. Also, the legislature has adjourned.

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