I Am Not My Hair

Until very recently, if you were to search online for professional hairstyle recommendations, natural hair and hair with braids, locks, and twists would rarely be listed.  The over-riding message was clear.  Dreadlocks and hairstyles mostly associated with people of color are not “professional.”  Because of that, companies often discriminated against people of color in a de-facto manner.  Thus, discriminatory hiring practices based on race continued despite having been generally considered blatantly illegal.

In 2019, Governor Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 188, also known as the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair), to expand the definition of race discrimination.  SB 188, which took effect January 1, 2020, protects employees and students from discrimination based on natural hair and hairstyles associated with race.   The bill applies to public schools, public and private employers, and excludes religious associations and nonprofit organizations.

SB 188 notes that “hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for Black individuals.” It continues by stating, “workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as these polices are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group.”

Furthermore, SB 188 prohibits discrimination based on “traits historically associated with race.”  This means that, although the bill primarily focuses on hair texture and hairstyles, it may be a source of litigation for discrimination based on other traits associated with race.

While California was the first state to pass the CROWN Act, other states are following.  Most recently, Colorado also passed its version of the CROWN Act which took effect September 14, 2020.

Now that you know, has your organization updated its dress code requirements accordingly?  Have your organization’s hiring practices changed in recognition of the expanded definition of race discrimination?  If you need help, we have the know-how.