On the heels of the enactment of a legal guideline by the New York City Commission on Human Rights in February, one that bars racial discrimination on the basis of hair, California legislators have introduced a similar bill of their own. California state Senate Bill No. 188 – which is being called the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act, or the CROWN Act – aims to prevent “workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair [that] have a disparate impact on black individuals.”
The bill, which was first introduced in January, states that “in a society in which hair has historically been one of many determining factors of a person’s race, and whether they were a second class citizen, hair today remains a proxy for race.” As such, “hair discrimination targeting hairstyles associated with race is racial discrimination,” and thus, grooming policies that prohibit “afros, braids, twists, and locks” stand in “direct opposition to equity and opportunity for all.”
“The history of our nation is riddled with laws and societal norms that equated ‘blackness,’ and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority,” the CROWN Act goes on to assert. Policies that prohibit such natural hairstyles “are more likely to deter black applicants and burden or punish black employees than any other group,” and thus, run afoul of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.
The bill passed through the state senate late last month – in a sweeping 69 to 0 – vote, and will now be passed off to the state’s governor to be signed into law.
To date, case law is devoid of decisions regarding the legislative protection against discrimination based on hair. However, at least a few states are working to fill the void. New York and New Jersey have enacted legislation, making California among first states in the country to legally prohibit covered employers, housing providers, and providers of public accommodations, as well as law enforcement from engaging in discrimination based on natural hair or hairstyles associated with race.