Will California use the CROWN Act to Expand Racial Discrimination Protection to Hair Styles?
If passed by the California Legislature, the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (aka “CROWN”) Act, Senate Bill 188, would prohibit employers and schools from enforcing discriminatory grooming and hair policies, as well as, dress codes that could disproportionately affect persons of color.
This bill prohibits employers and schools from enforcing purportedly “race neutral” grooming policies that disproportionately impact persons of color. Additionally, while anti-discrimination laws presently protect the choice to wear an Afro, Afros are not the only natural presentation of Black hair. SB 188 will ensure protection against discrimination based on hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) which applies to employers of five or more employees and schools, which are governed by the California Education Code.
California state Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) who introduced the bill, discussed the struggle of black employees who feel pressured to maintain a “professional” image while “protecting the health and integrity of their hair.” She went on to add that men and women of color have historically been forced to endure expensive, painful, and even dangerous chemical treatments to change their hair to conform with these standards.
Senator Mitchell also stated in her speech that “… there are still far too many cases of black employees and applicants denied employment or promotion—even terminated—because of the way they choose to wear their hair. I have heard far too many reports of black children humiliated and sent home from school because their natural hair was deemed unruly or a distraction to others.”
The CROWN Act passed the Senate floor on April 23, 2019 unanimously and is now on to the way to the state assembly, and is expected to become law. If passed and signed into law, California would be the first state in the nation to create such a law aimed at eliminating hairstyle discrimination based on race.
Employer Take Aways:
If the CROWN Act becomes law, California employers should review their hair and dress code polices to ensure that these policies do not have a discriminatory impact on people of color.