On July 26, 2022, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act, the CROWN Act. The law went into effect immediately.
The CROWN Act prohibits discrimination against a person for wearing “[n]atural or protective hairstyle[s],” including, but not limited to “braids, locks, twists, Bantu knots and other formations” in workplaces, school organizations, and places of public accommodation. The law was inspired by the experience of twin sisters who were barred by their school from participating in or attending school sponsored events while wearing braids with long extensions, which school officials stated violated school policy. Massachusetts joins seventeen other states that have passed similar laws, and comparable legislation is being considered at the federal level as well.
The CROWN Act adds “natural or protective hairstyle” to the enumerated list of protected categories in a number of existing Massachusetts state laws, including the laws prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing and lending (M.G.L. c. 151B, § 4), in public school enrollment (M.G.L. c. 76, § 5), in school bullying and prevention plans (M.G.L. c. 71, § 370), in charter schools (M.G.L. c. 71, § 89), and in places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, stores and hotels (M.G.L. c. 272, § 92A).
The law prohibits denial of employment and educational opportunities in places of work, schools, and school-related organizations on the basis of one’s “natural or protective hairstyle.” The law aims to eliminate discrimination against individuals from underrepresented groups based on stereotypes regarding natural hairstyles that are not related to the necessary qualifications for a position.
Violations of the CROWN Act may result in a Charge of Discrimination or a subsequent civil lawsuit. Employers should review and update their EEO and nondiscrimination policies to include this new protected class. Dress code or appearance policies should also be reviewed to ensure compliance with the new law. Employers may want to consider training for managers and supervisors to ensure compliance with the law.
If you need help understanding this law and its impact, contact us.