Kelly A. Knight is an attorney and mediator based in Los Angeles, CAlifornia. He handles matters throughout California.

Governor signs Senate Bill 188 (CROWN Act), implementing workplace protection for hairstyles, textures, and other traits historically associated with race

On July 3, 2019, the Governor signed Senate Bill 188 (click here for bill text), also known as the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act (CROWN Act).

Among other things, new subdivisions (w) and (x) are added to the definitions section of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, Government Code section 12926:

(w) “Race” is inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.

(x) “Protective hairstyles” includes, but is not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.

The new law will go into effect January 1, 2020.

Here is the first section of the bill containing the statement of legislative intent:

The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:

(a) The history of our nation is riddled with laws and societal norms that equated “blackness,” and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority, sometimes subject to separate and unequal treatment.

(b) This idea also permeated societal understanding of professionalism. Professionalism was, and still is, closely linked to European features and mannerisms, which entails that those who do not naturally fall into Eurocentric norms must alter their appearances, sometimes drastically and permanently, in order to be deemed professional.

(c) Despite the great strides American society and laws have made to reverse the racist ideology that Black traits are inferior, hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for Black individuals.

(d) 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 than any other group.

(e) Federal courts accept that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, and therefore protects against discrimination against afros. However, the courts do not understand that afros are not the only natural presentation of Black hair. Black hair can also be naturally presented in braids, twists, and locks.

(f) In a society in which hair has historically been one of many determining factors of a person’s race, and whether they were a second class citizen, hair today remains a proxy for race. Therefore, hair discrimination targeting hairstyles associated with race is racial discrimination.

(g) Acting in accordance with the constitutional values of fairness, equity, and opportunity for all, the Legislature recognizes that continuing to enforce a Eurocentric image of professionalism through purportedly race-neutral grooming policies that disparately impact Black individuals and exclude them from some workplaces is in direct opposition to equity and opportunity for all.

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