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Massachusetts Joins Growing list of States Prohibiting Hair Style Discrimination

Massachusetts has become the latest state to prohibit discrimination based on hair styles historically associated with someone’s race, and prohibits such discrimination in workplaces, schools, and places of public accommodation. On July 26, 2022, Mass. Governor Charlie Baker signed House Bill 4554 into law, known as the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (“CROWN”) Act. The law became effective on October 24, 2022.

Mass. now joins seventeen other states that have enacted similar legislation prohibiting discrimination based on someone’s natural hair styles, along with similar legislation pending at the federal level. The CROWN Act arose, in part, from a situation where a Massachusetts charter school punished two Black students for wearing hair extensions against school policy in 2017. The CROWN Act makes it illegal to discriminate against a person based on their natural hair texture, hair type, and hairstyles, which include, but are not limited to, braids, locks, twists, Bantu knots, and other formations. The CROWN Act tasks the Mass. Commission Against Discrimination with creating rules, regulations, and policies for the interpretation and enforcement of the new law.

The CROWN Act prohibits employers from adopting or implementing codes of conduct or policies that restrict or ban natural hairstyles. Employers should review their equal employment opportunity and non-discrimination policies, and employee handbooks, to ensure compliance with the CROWN Act. Employers with policies directed at employees’ personal grooming and appearances should be particularly diligent in reviewing their policies and procedures. Employers should consider providing updated training to hiring personnel, supervisors, and managers to inform employees of the CROWN Act’s protections.

Whitney Law Group’s compliance team can assist employers that need to update their H.R. policies, including revising employee handbooks, conducting internal investigations, and minimizing potential risks. The CROWN Act may entitle employees to economic and compensatory damages, punitive damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees if employees demonstrate that they suffered discrimination because of their natural hairstyle.

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