April 17, 2020 Category: Race Discrimination
In July 2019, the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, signed Senate Bill 188 into law. The bill, more commonly known as the Crown Act, became law and effective on January 1, 2020. The purpose is to protect students and employees from discrimination based on their natural hair or hairstyles that are commonly associated with their race.
What is the Crown Act?
California is known for being progressive when it comes to protecting its citizens from discrimination. Both the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Education Code already offered more protections from discrimination than other states and federal law.
The CROWN Act is a continuation of this and it makes it illegal to give unequal treatment to a student or employee based on their natural hair texture or race-related hairstyles. The Act applies to public and private employers and public schools. Religious associations and nonprofits are excluded from the law.
CROWN stands for Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair. State Senator Holly J. Mitchell introduced the bill in 2019. She was inspired by a lawsuit that took place in New York City in 2016 where an ex-salon manager claimed that he had been asked to implement a hair policy that seemed to discriminate against black employees. More claims against the owners were made that showed a history of asking black employees to not have dreadlocks or box braids while working.
She continued to see more and more claims against schools and employers who seemed to be targeting black students and employees. Motivated to do something about it, she drafted the bill to prevent unequal treatment and discrimination based on natural hair and hairstyles. It was passed and became law when the Governor signed it.
Why is protection needed?
After California passed the CROWN Act, other cities and states followed them and began passing their own hair anti-discrimination laws. Why is this important? History shows a repeated process of students and employees being treated unequally because of their hairstyles. It is becoming commonplace in the news to hear about a student who was asked to cut their dreadlocks to walk at their high school graduation or participate in a school sport.
The new laws and regulations that are being made are important because they allow legal recourse for discrimination. This means that a student or an employee will now be able to sue the school or their employer if they are treated unequally because of their hair. It also encourages employers and schools to not discriminate because they may fear a lawsuit.
One organization leading the way for these protections is the New York City Commission on Human Rights. They recently proposed a document on Legal Enforcement Guidance on Race Discrimination on the Basis of Hair. This document gives a brief history of why protections are needed and how employers and schools should operate to ensure that they are not discriminating against any employee or student based on their hair.
What do the critics say?
The tide is turning and there are few critics of banning discrimination based on hair. However, there is some case law that shows how the courts have treated lawsuits in the past. In the case of EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, the EEOC sued the company on behalf of Chastity Jones who claimed that she was not hired because she refused to cut off her dreadlocks.
The court ruled against the EEOC and Jones because it used outdated and archaic notions about race by deciding it was solely biological. They did not consider race to include social constructs. This means that the court decided that black hair is a physical characteristic of race but black hairstyles are cultural and can change.
It is important to note that the plaintiff in the case was the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). This suggests that the federal government considers cultural hairstyle discrimination as real and something that deserves protection. This is good news for proponents of the CROWN Act and other advocates for change.
Another major criticism is the cost and time needed to change the law. While it may be completely understandable to ban discrimination based on hairstyle, why make a law about it. It could be a slippery slope to allow other people to come forward to request more protections. This would mean that the government is using a heavy hand to regulate how schools and employers should act.