California’s Crowning Achievement: California Becomes First State to Ban Natural Hairstyle Based Discrimination

August 7, 2019

Last month, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a novel anti-discrimination bill into law, making California the first state to ban natural hairstyle-based discrimination.  S.B. 188, also known as the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair, or “Crown Act,” amended both California’s Education Code and Government Code, expanding the law’s definition of “race” to include traits historically associated with race such as hair texture and “protective hairstyles.”  Lawmakers proposed S.B. 188 in order to combat professedly race-neutral policies and practices that actually promoted a “Eurocentric image of professionalism” and “disparately impact[ed] Black individuals,” noting that “hair today remains a proxy for race.”  As a result of these amendments, discriminatory acts that take place in the workplace and school and based on an individual’s hair texture and/or a “protective hairstyle,” such as braids, locks, and twists, will now be unlawful and actionable under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.  The law clarified that this is not an exhaustive list.  As a result, any employment practices or policies based on hair or protective hairstyle traditionally associated with race are illegal, unless based on a bona fide occupational qualification or applicable security regulations.  The new law will take effect on January 1, 2020.

Employer takeaways:

    • Employers should review all employment practices, hiring criteria, handbooks, and policies to verify they do not include dress codes and grooming policies prohibiting “natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks,” to ensure compliance.
    • Employers should also consider implementing or updating workplace diversity training.

If you believe your company qualifies for a bona fide occupational qualification or security regulation and would like to discuss, or would like assistance updating policies or providing diversity training, please contact any of our employment attorneys.

For further information, contact one of our employment attorneys.

Hope Case
(650) 494-4098

Merrili Escue
(858) 381-5458

Nancy Kawano
(858) 381-4890


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