Anti-discrimination law in California now protects black workers and students from discrimination based on their choice to wear a natural hairstyle. The CROWN Act, which bars discrimination against natural hair, went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. Previously, employees and students may have encountered policies that banned specific hairstyles like afros, dreadlocks, twists and braids. While these policies obviously targeted styles associated with black hair, workers and students struggled to find protection under existing laws barring racial discrimination. The policies often claimed to be race-neutral but effectively only targeted black workers and students for discipline.

CROWN Act in the workplace

The CROWN Act noted that such policies “enforce a Eurocentric image of professionalism” that can have a significant impact on black workers, even excluding them from certain jobs based on wearing their hair in a natural style. The text also specifically referred to the history of racism in the United States that classifies black styles, traits and appearance as inferior or lesser than those associated with European styles. While the passage of the law was sparked by outrage over the mistreatment of high school athletes, it also provides important protections in the workplace.

Discrimination, race and hairstyle

A viral video depicted a black high school wrestler who was forced to cut off his dreadlocks in public in order to be allowed to compete. A white referee ordered him to do so on the basis of an ostensibly neutral hair policy that, nonetheless, disproportionately affected black athletes. Throughout the state and across the country, black students and workers shared their experience of hair policing and scrutiny on the job and at school. This type of scrutiny was applied to black natural hairstyles in particular, which were labeled unprofessional or disruptive despite the fact that they reflected the natural look of curly, textured hair.

Racial discrimination continues to come in many forms in the workplace, and now employees have a new tool to help them protect their rights and challenge discriminatory conduct. An employment law attorney may help workers who were fired, denied shifts or denied promotions due to their natural hairstyles to seek accountability under the CROWN Act.