On July 3, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 188 also known as the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act. The CROWN Act amends the California Education Code and the Fair Employment and Housing Act’s definition of race to include traits historically associated with race, including hair texture and protective hairstyles. Protective hairstyles include, but are not limited to, “braids, locks, and twists.”
The legislation makes California the first state to ban discrimination against natural black hairstyles including cornrows, afros, braids, twists, and dreadlocks. The CROWN Act recognizes the risk of discrimination particularly against black individuals based on characteristics such as hair texture and cultural styles that are commonly found in the black community. The text of the bill specifically recognizes that black individuals are disparately impacted and excluded from some workplaces based on hair discrimination.
This new law creates a clear link between natural hair and race, and suggests that the California legislature is seeking to broaden the scope of protections based on more subtle forms of bias that may be found in the workplace. At the same time, discrimination based on hair characteristics may be difficult to recognize, and thus employers now need to be more vigilant at detecting this bias in order to prevent discrimination.
Other States Are Likely to Follow California’s Lead
Also, employers should be aware that although California was the first state to prohibit natural hair discrimination, other states are now following suit. On July 12, 2019, New York signed into law Senate Bill 6209, which likewise prohibits discrimination based on natural hairstyles. There is also a bill currently pending in New Jersey, Senate Bill 3945, that would similarly protect natural hairstyles. While thus far only New York and New Jersey have followed California’s lead, other states are likely to follow suit. Given this trend, employers should monitor such legislative developments in each of the states in which they do business in order to ensure compliance.
Click California's CROWN Act Bans Hair Discrimination in 2020 (natlawreview.com) to read the review.
Copyright © 2022, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP. National Law Review, Volume IX, Number 234