Hair discrimination bill gets victory lap Friday

OMAHA, Neb. -- While it had already been passed into law a month prior, a recent legislative bill got a victory lap on Friday.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts held a signing ceremony in Omaha for LB451, which supporters say will strengthen protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of race, namely characteristics related to hair.

The bill was proposed by Sen. Terrell McKinney, who said he introduced the bill to prevent employers from harassing or firing employees based on naturally curly hairstyles that are common for Black people.

Ricketts vetoed a similar bill proposed by Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh last year, saying he supported the intent but had concerns that it would prevent employers from enacting grooming standards related to safety, such as food handlers or machinery operators. Ricketts also noted that some hairstyles aren’t exclusively worn by one race.

McKinney said he worked with the governor’s office this year to address those concerns and help the bill pass. Under the current bill, employers could impose standards for workplace safety reasons. Law enforcement agencies would be exempt from the requirements.

LB451 expands existing laws banning racial discrimination in employment. It would define race to include hair texture and protective hairstyles, such as braids, locks and twists. The measure passed on a 40-4 vote. 

The Nebraska Legislature passed the bill in April, with only Joni Albrecht, Robert Clements, Steve Erdman and John Lowe voting against it. Five others, including one excused absence, did not vote on the legislation.