In California, Now Even Hair Is Protected

Author:Mr Steven Gatley
Profession:Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP

Last month, California became the first state to protect employees from discrimination based on natural hair and hairstyles associated with race. California follows New York City's passage of a similar ordinance earlier this year. In February, the New York City Human Rights Commission issued a Legal Enforcement Guidance on Race Discrimination on the Basis of Hair. The Commission held that Black hairstyles are protected racial characteristics because they are an inherent part of Black identity.

California's new law, SB 188, known as the Crown Act, seeks to "create a respectful and open workplace for natural hair." The law went into effect on July 3. The goal of the legislation is to encourage employers to create grooming and appearance policies that will foster inclusion and diversity. In enacting the Crown Act, the legislature found that "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 policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees more than any other group."

California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) has more categories of protection than any other state. The Crown Act will further expand the definition of race under FEHA. The bill applies to private employers of 5...

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