Within the past three weeks, both California and New York have passed laws prohibiting employers from discriminating based upon hairstyle. Governor Newsom signed California’s “CROWN Act” (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) on July 3, 2019, making California the first state to ban discrimination against natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks. The law amends the state’s Education and Government Codes to define “race or ethnicity” as “inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” It takes effect on January 1, 2020.
Introduced by Sen. Holly Mitchell, the CROWN Act “protects the right of Black Californians to choose to wear their hair in its natural form, without pressure to conform to Eurocentric norms,” Mitchell said. According to its sponsors, the CROWN Act will “ensure protection against discrimination in the workplace and schools based on hairstyles by prohibiting employers and schools from enforcing purportedly ‘race neutral’ grooming policies that disproportionately impact persons of color.”
Governor Cuomo signed New York’s SB 6209 on July 12, 2019. It amends the definition of “race” under the New York State Human Rights Law. Now, the Law will define “race” for certain specific purposes to include, but not be limited to, ancestry, color, ethnic group identification, and ethnic background, and will to include traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles; and defines “protective hairstyles” to include, but not be limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists. The new law makes it unlawful in New York to discriminate on the basis of such traits in employment. The New York law took effect immediately upon signing.
These laws have been reportedly passed in response to a few recent events. Specifically, in August of 2018, Louisiana sixth grader Faith Fennidy was kicked off school grounds because her braided hair violated school policy. A few months later, a wrestling official told New Jersey high school athlete Andrew Johnson he would have to cut his dreadlocks in order to compete. Finally, and most notably, was the case between Catastrophe Management Systems (“CMS”), where the plaintiff, Chastity Jones, alleged that she suffered racial discrimination when CMS rescinded a job offer because Jones had dreadlocks.
There, back in 2010, Jones interviewed for a customer service representative job at CMS. She arrived for the interview wearing her hair in dreadlocks. After Jones was offered the job, the company’s HR manager told Jones that CMS could not hire her “with the dreadlocks.” When Jones asked her why, the HR manager told Jones, “They tend to get messy, although I’m not saying yours are, but you know what I’m talking about,” the lawsuit says. Jones declined to change her hair.
Subsequently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Jones, alleging that CMS had subjected her to racial discrimination in violation of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, the presiding district court dismissed the complaint. The EEOC appealed. In 2016, a unanimous three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court ruling dismissing the case, stating that the EEOC “did not state a plausible claim that CMS intentionally discriminated against Ms. Jones because of her race.”
The EEOC decided not to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. Then, in 2018, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a motion with the U.S. Supreme Court asking that the case be accepted by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Now, it appears that the states of California and New York have acted to prevent instances like this occurring in the future. In light of these new laws, California and New York employers, or employers with offices in either state, should revisit their grooming standards policies to ensure they are compliant.
About Harrison Oldham
Harrison grew up in Mansfield, Texas. He attended Texas A&M University for his bachelor’s degree, where he met his wonderful wife, Kelsey. After graduating magna cum laude from Texas A&M, he attended SMU Dedman School of Law, graduating with honors in 2012. Today, Harrison and his wife live in Dallas, Texas with their son, Teddy.
Since graduating from SMU Law, Harrison has worked exclusively in the field of business law. He has spent time in private practice and in-house, working with clients of every size; from single person startups to Fortune 250 companies. Today his practice focuses on serving the diverse needs of businesses and individuals throughout Texas. You can learn more about Harrison by visiting his website, at: http://