On July 26, 2022, Massachusetts became the 18th state in the U.S. to ban discrimination based on natural hairstyle and hair texture. The CROWN (“Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair”) Act amends the definition of “race” in Massachusetts’ anti-discrimination law, G.L. c. 151B, to include “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, hair length, and protective hairstyles.”
The statute was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker and extends to employment, education, and housing. Under the new law, an employer that discriminates against an employee for wearing dreadlocks or having an afro, for example, has engaged in race discrimination. Employers will need to review their policies to ensure that they are not restricting such hairstyles, as the statute fairly construed would render those polices per se unlawful. Similarly, employers will need to train managers and human resources professionals to be mindful of employees’ rights to wear their natural hair or hairstyles associated with their race.
“For far too long, Black folks have been punished for the hair that grows on our heads and the way we move through and show up in this world—enough,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley in a statement praising the statute’s enactment. Congresswoman Pressley added, “From our young students with braids to job applicants with locs, this law is meaningful protection for our natural hairstyles.”
As with other claims of workplace discrimination, claims of workplace bias based on hair texture or natural hairstyle can be brought before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”), subject to that agency’s 300-day deadline for filing complaints. From there, aggrieved employees may bring their claims in court or seek enforcement through the MCAD.
A similar bill is before Congress and has passed the House of Representatives.