On July 3, 2019, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 188, known as the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act.
The law, which takes effect January 1, 2010, is the first in the country to ban discrimination on the basis of hair texture, hair style, and other “traits historically associated with one’s race.” The law provides that individuals with dreadlocks, braids, cornrows, or other traditionally black hairstyles cannot be discriminated against on the basis of hairstyle in employment, education, and other settings.
Less than two weeks later, the state of New York followed California’s lead by passing a similar law.
Both the CROWN Act and New York’s new law prohibit employers, school administrators, and others from requiring African Americans to cut or straighten their dreadlocks, cornrows, twists, or other natural black hairstyles.
The laws were passed in response to a series of highly-publicized incidents in which African Americans with traditional hairstyles experienced discrimination. In a 2017 incident in New York, a store manager at Banana Republic told a sales associate that her braids were “too urban and unkempt.”
In 2013, a top executive at BP was fired after she allegedly was warned that wearing dashikis and braiding her hair made her colleagues uncomfortable, and that she should confine these practices to “culture day” or black history month.
In 2010, an Alabama woman was told during a job interview for a call center position that her dreadlocks violated the company’s grooming policy because they “tend to get messy.”
California and New York employers with hair-related grooming policies should consult with knowledgeable employment attorneys to make sure their policies don’t violate the states’ new antidiscrimination provisions.