The CROWN Act Preventing Hair Discrimination

Although California is considered a “progressive” state, it is also concerned about maintaining its diverse cultures and traditions.  The Legislature being cognizant of the diversity, enacts laws to promote the diversity and fairness for all its residents.

On January 1, 2020, one of California’s new protective laws went into effect.  It’s called the Create a Respective and Open Workplace for Natural Hair or the CROWN Act.

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act [FEHA] and its Education Code provide protections against discrimination based on certain personal characteristics, including race. The new law, State Bill 188, expands the definition of “race” in both of these laws to include “…traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” The law also specifies that protective hairstyles “includes but is not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.”

State Senator Holly J. Mitchell introduced the bill to prevent the unequal treatment of students and employees because of their natural hair texture and race-related hairstyles. SB 188 notes that “hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for Black individuals….workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as these polices are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group.”

SB 188 applies to public schools, public and private employers.  It excludes religious associations and nonprofit organizations.

The new law does not prevent employers and organizations from having dress and grooming codes, but those codes must be “valid and non-discriminatory” and “not have a disparate impact.”

Employers may continue to enforce policies that require employees to secure their hair for health, safety, or hygienic reasons.  However, they should also ensure that those policies are consistently applied to all employees. To ensure an employer’s intent, policies should state the reasons for implementing such standards.

Rosario Schuler, the founder of Oh-My Nappy Hair (with salons in Atlanta, Georgia and Oakland and Los Angeles, California) has touted the beauty and advantages of non-straight hairstyles for people of color for decades. She believes California’s CROWN Act is a big victory for her and all other people of color.

“We have all heard the stories about brothers and sisters who have been stigmatized because of their hair,” she said. “Years ago, I said to myself, one day I’ll be able to take a shower and get dressed and get out of the house with my hair the way it is naturally. And that day seems to have come.”

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