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California makes job discrimination based on natural hairstyle illegal

California was the first state to pass into law the “CROWN Act” that protects against employment discrimination based on natural hairstyles like braids and locks.

On January 1, 2020, a new law took effect in California that includes natural hairstyles within the definition of race as it concerns employment discrimination. There is a national advocacy movement for states and localities to adopt the so-called CROWN Act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.

The CROWN Act in California was introduced and given its name by Sen. Holly Mitchell of District 30 in Los Angeles. According to her website, the Act has “gained international media attention” and her legislative work has focused on the civil rights of minority communities.

Since California, the law has been adopted in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, Cincinnati and Montgomery County, Maryland. About half the states are considering it and it was introduced in Congress in December 2019, according to the CROWN Coalition.

The California law adds to the definition of race for purposes of employment discrimination (as well as educational discrimination) “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” Protective hairstyles are defined as including, but “not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.”

Legislative findings

The legislature begins the legislation with findings and declarations to support the bill. First, it notes that our national history includes “societal norms that equated ‘blackness,’ and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority, sometimes subject to separate and unequal treatment.”

It declares further that professionalism is “closely linked to European features and mannerisms” and that hair “remains a rampant source of racial discrimination.”

When an employer’s dress code prohibits “natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks,” it will disparately impact black job applicants and employees. The declaration concludes that “hair discrimination targeting hairstyles associated with race is racial discrimination.”

Any Californian who believes they have faced discrimination as a job applicant or an employee based on their natural or ethnic hairstyle should speak with an employment law attorney to understand potential legal remedies.

Attorney Daniel Feder of The Law Offices of Daniel Feder represents employees in the Bay Area who are the victims of illegal employment discrimination based on race and other protected characteristics under state and federal laws.