United States: California's New Hairstyle Antidiscrimination Law May Signal The Beginning Of A National Trend

Signaling a growing movement to align culturally inclusive practices with legal protections, California has become the first state to expressly ban discrimination based on hairstyle and hair texture associated with a person's race. On July 3, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsome signed into law Senate Bill No. 188, the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act (CROWN Act).

Effective January 1, 2020, the new law amends provisions of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the California Education Code prohibiting discrimination based on race. As previously reported, the CROWN Act expands the definition of race to include traits historically associated with race, including hair texture and protective hairstyles. Protective hairstyles include braids, dreadlocks, twists, and other unspecified hairstyles associated with race.

The declaratory section of the law provides the state legislature's justification for the expanded definition. The legislature asserts that, historically, traits associated with African Americans such as dark skin, kinky and curly hair, and other traits were perceived as a "badge of inferiority." Furthermore, "professionalism" has been "closely linked to European features and mannerisms," requiring those who do not fall within "Eurocentric norms" to change their appearances. The legislature concludes that "[w]orkplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group."

Although this is the first state law specifically addressing hair texture and hairstyles, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) already takes the position that race discrimination may include unfavorable treatment of an employee because of personal characteristics associated with race, such as hair texture, skin color, facial hair, facial features, and other physical traits. However, in 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected the EEOC's position in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Catastrophe Management Solutions. In that case, the court held that Title VII protection extends only to immutable traits of race, and that dreadlocks are not an immutable trait of black persons. The court ruled that mutable, or changeable, characteristics, such as hairstyle and facial hair, even if associated culturally with a protected class, are not protected characteristics. The Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear the plaintiff's appeal.

New York State and Other Jurisdictions

While no federal law explicitly prohibits personal appearance discrimination, some state and local legislators are picking up the mantle of providing protection for workers in this area. On July 12, 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law S.6209A, a bill prohibiting racial discrimination based on "natural hair or hairstyles" making New York the second state, after California, to do so. The measure amends New York's Human Rights Law and the anti-bullying law known as the Dignity for All Students Act, and adds "traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and protective hairstyles" to their coverage.

New York's state law follows efforts in New York City. In February 2019, the New York City Commission on Human Rights issued legal enforcement guidance stating that the New York City Human Rights Law "protects the rights of New Yorkers to maintain natural hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic, or cultural identities" including "the right to maintain . . . locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, [or] Afros."

In doing so, the commission claimed it was the first city to formalize such rules, although other cities such as Chicago have enforced their laws in a similar way. The antidiscrimination statutes in the District of Columbia and in Madison, Wisconsin, both include "physical appearance" within their lists of protected categories, which some interpret as including natural hair or protective hairstyles.

On July 9, 2019, a bill was introduced in the New Jersey Senate and Assembly that would amend the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to provide greater protection for individual hairstyles and prohibit hair discrimination in the workplace, in housing, and in schools. Finally, and most recently, on July 17, 2019, Michigan lawmakers introduced House Bill No. 4811, which would add language to the state's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include hair texture and protective hairstyles as "traits historically associated with race."

Key Takeaways

Given California's and New York's laws, the efforts underway in other jurisdictions, and companies' goals to provide increased focus on inclusive workplace practices, employers may want to consider the following:

  • Reviewing and updating antidiscrimination and grooming/appearance policies in employee handbooks to ensure that they appropriately address hair textures and hairstyles associated with race
  • Addressing accommodation issues related to employees who are unable to adhere to appearance standards due to sincerely held religious beliefs
  • Reviewing model policies and customizing them to the workplace.
  • Providing training for hiring managers to ensure that job applicants are not unfavorably rated because of hairstyles associated with race
  • Identifying resources, such as workplace affinity groups, that may support company efforts to create more inclusive environments for current employees, including those who wish to wear culturally reflective or protective hairstyles
  • Revisiting workforce diversity and inclusion training programs to reinforce nondiscriminatory concepts of "professional" appearance and counter existing biases or stereotypes surrounding hairstyles in the workplace

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions