US: New Jersey Employers Cannot Discriminate Based On Hair

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New Jersey recently became the third state to prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of hair, under legislation signed on Dec 19, 2019. This law will “ensure people of color are free to wear their hair however they feel best represents them,” said NJ Senator Sandra B. Cunningham, a primary sponsor of the legislation. “No one should ever be told it is ‘unprofessional’ to embrace their culture.”

New Jersey Law

The "Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act" (CROWN Act), amends the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, which bars employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of protected categories, such as race. The CROWN Act clarifies that prohibited race discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles.” Protective hair styles include, but are not limited to, braids, locks and twists. The Act codifies Division on Civil Rights agency enforcement guidance from September 2019.

Hairstyle Protections Elsewhere in US

In 2019, New York and California banned discrimination based on hair, while Washington, DC, and other cities prohibit discrimination based on personal or physical appearance, including hairstyles and beards. At least one appeals court has rejected the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s stance that a workplace policy banning dreadlocks is racial discrimination barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (EEOC v. Catastrophe Mgt. Solutions, No. 14-13482 (11th Cir. Sept. 15, 2016)). However, some courts have agreed with EEOC’s position that certain workplace grooming polices can have a racially disparate impact prohibited by Title VII. Workplace policies restricting hairstyles or beards may also run afoul of Title VII’s ban on religious discrimination.

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Stephanie Rosseau
by Stephanie Rosseau

Principal, Mercer’s Law & Policy Group

Fiona Webster
by Fiona Webster

Principal, Mercer’s Law & Policy Group

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