On July 26, 2022, the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act was signed into law in Massachusetts by Gov. Charlie Baker. This is the 18th state making it illegal to discriminate against a person based on their hairstyle or texture.
Massachusetts joins states such as California, Virginia and Tennessee, to implement a law banning discrimination based on hairstyle or hair texture. Federally, a version of the law has been passed in the U.S. House of Representatives but has not yet been passed in the Senate.
What is the CROWN Act?
The law, H. 4554, will go into effect on October 24, 2022, and will apply to the entire commonwealth. It bars discrimination of individuals based on natural and protective hairstyles, defined as hair texture, hair type and hairstyles. Protective hairstyles may apply to, but are not limited to:
- Bantu knots
- Hair coverings
The law will apply to schools, workplaces and public accommodations such as restaurants and retail shops.
The catalyst for the act began in 2017 when administrators at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, Massachusetts disciplined sisters Deana and Mya Cook due to wearing braids with extensions. They received detention, as well as being barred from school events such as prom and track.
“We are so excited to see Massachusetts enact the CROWN Act…,” stated Esi Eggleston Bracey, president of Unilever USA, CEO of North America Personal Care. “Now Massachusetts residents are free and protected against any harmful policies that prevent educational or employment opportunities based on a natural or protective [hairstyle]. This brings us to 18 states that have enacted The CROWN Act or legislation inspired by [it] and we continue to advocate for the passing of federal legislation in the U.S.”
What does HR need to know?
The passage of the act gives HR a good chance to update policies and practices and ensure they comply with the new anti-discrimination measures. It may be a good idea to review policies pertaining to things such as anti-discrimination, harassment, grooming and dress code, as well as equal opportunity policies.
You may also want to provide training on the CROWN Act to any necessary individuals, such as supervisors, managers, school employees and anyone involved in hiring processes.
Violation of the law may result in monetary damages for economic loss as well as punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.