New California Law Bans Hairstyle Discrimination

On July 3, 2019, California became the first state to prohibit hairstyle discrimination in workplaces and schools. The law, known as the “CROWN Act,” expands California’s anti-discrimination statute—the Fair Employment and Housing Act—to explicitly protect African American hairstyles and textures. Under the CROWN Act, hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists, are considered characteristics of a protected class. This means that if an employee—because of their race-related hairstyle—is subject to discriminatory employment practices, including hiring, promotion, or termination, the employee can more easily claim a violation of California’s anti-discrimination statute. While employers often claim their employment decisions are related to neutral policies such as professionalism and dress code, these reasons often mask indirect discrimination based on race.

Violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act subject employers to costly litigation, and permit employees who prove liability to recover economic damages, emotional distress damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees. For years Workplace Justice Advocates has filed lawsuits for violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, and will continue to do so including for employee discrimination claims related to protective hairstyles.

[Written by Alena Liang, current Law Student at Chapman University Fowler School of Law]