Louisiana and Massachusetts recently became the latest two states to pass laws on Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN Act). CROWN Act laws generally prohibit discrimination based on hairstyles and hair textures that are associated with race or national origin.
Currently, eighteen states and numerous municipalities have now enacted laws expanding the legal definition of race as a protected class to include traits historically associated with race, including hair textures and styles:
States with Crown Act laws:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
Municipalities with Crown Act laws:
- Cites of Tempe and Tucson, Arizona
- Broward County, Florida
- Clayton County, East Point, South Fulton, and Stockbridge, Georgia
- Cities of Covington and Louisville, Kentucky
- City of Ann Arbor, Ingham County, and Genesee County, Michigan
- Cities of Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri
- Cities of Charlotte, Durham, Raleigh, and Greensboro, and Orange County and Wake County, North Carolina
- Cities of Akron, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Newburgh Heights, Ohio
- Cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Dane County, Wisconsin
Federal legislation was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on March 18, 2022, prohibiting discrimination based on hairstyle or hair texture commonly associated with a particular race or national origin. To date, it has not passed in the U.S. Senate.
With certain exceptions, the laws also prohibit workplace dress code and hygiene policies that may show racial bias in requiring employees to appear professional by prohibiting afros, braids, twists, cornrows, locks, and other hairstyles or natural hair types historically associated with race.
Although prior court decisions already protect afro hairstyles under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mut. Hosp. Ins., 538 F.2d 164, 168 (7th Cir. 1976)), more recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit did not extend these protections to other hairstyles (EEOC v. Catastrophe Mgmt. Solutions, 852 F.3d 1018, 1028-34 (11th Cir. 2016)).
Employers may want to consider taking proactive steps to manage the requirements of these Crown Act laws in their workplaces. Some of those steps might include:
- Reviewing employee handbooks, antidiscrimination policies, dress codes or grooming policies for compliance with CROWN Act laws;
- Reviewing onboarding and interview documents to comply with CROWN Act laws;
- Amending job descriptions or applications to minimize any potential claims of discrimination based on an individual’s hairstyle; and
- Providing education and training on CROWN Act laws for recruiters, managers, and supervisors.