Gwinnett County  BOC file photo

Gwinnett County commissioners take up business at a meeting in this file photo from February. The commissioners voted this week to expand the county’s nondiscrimination policy and add protections for employees based on their immigration status, hairstyle, family or housing statuses.

Gwinnett commissioners moved to broaden the county government’s nondiscrimination policies this week by adding several new protections for county employees, including barring discrimination based on their immigration status, hairstyle or housing situation.

The county’s nondiscrimination policy was updated by the commissioners on Tuesday. Among the new areas that are protected from discrimination are ancestry or homeless, immigration or family statuses.

The revisions also borrow from the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act, also known as the CROWN Act, by forbidding discrimination against employees if they have ethnic hairstyles.

“Discrimination takes many different forms and it’s important for Gwinnett County to take the lead in identifying and eliminating them,” Commission Chairwoman Nicole Hendrickson said. “People need to know we apply the Gwinnett Standard to our organization as well as to our employment opportunities.”

The new protections are set to go into effect on Nov. 1. The county already forbid discrimination based on sex and gender identity, race, color, age, sexual orientation, religion or political affiliation.

This is the second time in just over a year that the county’s nondiscrimination policy has been updated. County commissioners added protections for employees based on their sexual orientation and gender identity in June 2020.

County leaders framed the new protections as an expansion of equity by ensuring more population groups are protected from discrimination.

“While Gwinnett works very hard to provide equal opportunities for all employees, the merit rule changes address subtle ways in which people can be penalized indirectly or unintentionally,” District 1 Commissioner Kirkland Carden said.

“We want people to be recognized and assessed according to their abilities and contributions.”

Commissioner Ben Ku, who led the effort to get protections for sexual orientation and gender identity last year, said, “I’m happy that the work I did since getting elected to standardize this language and wording continues to be updated and enhanced to prevent all targeted and arbitrary discrimination. Gwinnett County holds itself to the highest standards of integrity and fairness.”

One of inspirations that county officials cited as influencing the new revisions adopted this week is the CROWN Act.

The county said nationwide data shows that Black women are 1.5 times more likely to face discrimination in the workplace and be sent home if they wear ethnic hairstyles or textures. These styles and textures can include braids, locs, twists or knots, according to the county.

“People are multi-faceted with many abilities and in an evolving and diverse community like Gwinnett, we’re striving not to let things like hair styles or family arrangements get in the way of recruiting and promoting the best talent we can find to assist in delivering superior services to our taxpayers,” commission Vice Chairwoman Marlene Fosque said.

Commissioner Jasper Watkins said the county should focus on whether its employees can do the jobs they are hired to do, and not on how their hair is styled, or what their immigration, housing or family statuses are.

“To succeed, any organization needs to get the most from its people and that means treating people fairly no matter who they are, where they come from or what they look like,” Watkins said. “We just want to know you can get the job done.”

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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