As we reported last week, on July 26, 2022, Governor Baker signed into law Massachusetts' own version of the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair ("CROWN") Act, prohibiting discrimination based on race-related hairstyles in the workplace, schools, and places of public accommodation.

Due to the unique and complex nature of the Commonwealth's bill amendment process, there were conflicting reports of the final version of the bill signed by the Governor. We have tracked down the actual final language signed by the Governor and want to clarify and correct a few items regarding this new law. Governor Baker signed Chapter 117 of the Acts of 2022, which incorporated amendments to H.4554, as contained within H.5028.

Technically, rather than creating a new independent protected class of "natural or protective hairstyle", as previously reported, the final law expands the definition of "race" across Massachusetts statutes, as applied to a prohibition on discrimination based on race. Specifically, in G.L. Chapter 4, section 7, "Race", as applied to a prohibition on discrimination based on race, is now defined to include "traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, hair length and protective hairstyles." The law, in turn, defines "Protective hairstyle" to include, without limitation, "braids, locks, twists, Bantu knots, hair coverings and other formations."

By implication, this expanded definition of "race" is thus incorporated into a number of statutes, including the anti-discrimination law (G.L. Chapter 151B) and the public accommodations law (G.L. Chapter 272, Section 98). The amended version now expressly ties the protected hairstyles to hairstyle "traits historically associated with race" and removes some of the ambiguities contained in H.4554.

The amendments also provide that the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination shall adopt, disseminate, amend and rescind rules and regulations or formulate policies and make recommendations as necessary to effectuate the purposes of these new definitions.

The bottom line impact of the CROWN Act has not changed. As previously stated, Massachusetts employers should take this opportunity to review their employee handbooks and related policies governing the dress and appearance of employees. Employers should refrain from banning certain natural hairstyles outright. However, if certain workspaces require such restrictions for health and safety reasons, non-discriminatory accommodations should be considered and implemented if feasible. Additionally, managers or other personnel with hiring, supervisory, or training responsibilities should be advised of these new protections so as to avoid risk of violations.

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