Earlier this month, California’s governor signed into law the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act. The new law is the first of its kind in the U.S. Beginning January 1, 2020, it will prohibit discrimination in employment based on dress codes that appear neutral on their face. The CROWN Act is intended to address policies that prohibit or limit afros, braids, cornrows, dreadlocks, and other styles typically associated with African-Americans.
If hairstyles are used as a proxy for race, these policies could have a disparate impact against African-American employees and applicants. The law contains an exception when the employer can demonstrate hygienic or safety reasons for the dress code restrictions. While employees can bring disparate impact race discrimination claims challenging dress codes under Title VII, the CROWN Act provides a more direct way to address these concerns. Similar legislation is pending in a number of states, and the new California law may be the first of many jurisdictions to limit dress code restrictions.