Pittsburgh officials change language of hairstyle law to remove protection for beards

Tom Davidson, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·2 min read

Feb. 23—Despite a last-ditch plea from the leader of the city's Commission on Human Relations, Pittsburgh City Council members Tuesday approved a revision to a law protecting city residents from discrimination because of their hairstyles. The revision removes language that extends protection to beards and other facial hair.

"We must value people," Jam Hammond, acting director of the Commission on Human Relations, told council members.

The CROWN — Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair — Act was enacted in October and spelled out protections for Pittsburgh residents who have hairstyles that are reflective of their culture and ethnicity like dreadlocks and braids.

The law allows those who face such discrimination to file a complaint with the city. Officials have been working to educate business owners about how the law will be applied.

Similar laws have passed in other cities because of lobbying by the CROWN Coalition, which has the support of the soap maker Dove, the National Urban League and the Western Center on Poverty and Law. The group is calling for similar legislation at both the state and federal levels.

Pittsburgh officials debated the scope of the law after a police officer wanted to grow a beard, something that's against departmental policy but that the officer thought would be protected under the CROWN Act.

It is not protected, the city's Human Resources Director Janet Manuel told council members last week.

Manuel and Hammond agree that businesses, or in this case the police department, are within their rights to restrict hair length when it's a matter of health or public safety.

Still, a revision to the law spearheaded by Mayor Bill Peduto removes "other forms of facial presentation" from the language of the law.

There's no reason to remove the wording, Hammond said.

It only weakens the law and continues to allow some people to be judged by the way they look, Hammond said.

Hammond made a final appeal as a resident and not a city official.

Revising the law is a "step back," Hammond said.

The appeal won over Councilwoman Deb Gross and Council President Theresa Kail-Smith, who voted against changing the law. But it passed by a 6-2 vote with support from council members Anthony Coghill, Bruce Kraus, R. Daniel Lavelle, Corey O'Connor, Erika Strassburger and Bobby Wilson. Councilman Ricky Burgess wasn't present during the vote.

Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, tdavidson@triblive.com or via Twitter .