December 11, 2019

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California Bans Discrimination Against Natural Hair

On July 3, 2019, Governor Gavin Newson signed Senate Bill 188, styled “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair” (the CROWN Act), updating California’s anti-discrimination law, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).  Specifically, the bill modifies the FEHA’s definition of race to include “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”  The new law takes effect January 1, 2020.

Notably, the new law provides:

“Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter black applicants and burden or punish black employees than any other group.” 

Employers may notice this language is similar to guidance issued by the New York City Human Rights Commission in February 2019 that “grooming or appearance policies that ban, limit, or otherwise restrict natural hair or hairstyles associated with Black people generally violate [New York City’s] anti-discrimination provisions.”

While the new law does not eliminate an employer’s ability to make and enforce grooming policies, California employers should consult with competent counsel to ensure that any grooming policies are imposed for non-discriminatory reasons, are uniformly applied and do not have a disparate impact on certain employees.

© Polsinelli PC, Polsinelli LLP in California


About this Author

Jason Plowman, Polsinelli Law Firm, Kansas City, Labor and Employment Litigation Law Attorney

Jason N.W. Plowman’s practice focuses on all facets of employment litigation, including harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and wage and hour matters.  He regularly represents employers before administrative agencies as well as state and federal courts across the country.  Jason also regularly partners with clients to deliver practical solutions regarding federal, state, and local employment laws and regulations.  His experience extends across multiple industries, including:

  • Telecommunications

  • ...

Erica H. Gruver Polsinelli Associate Employment Class Actions Employment Disputes, Litigation and Arbitration

Erica H. Gruver is an associate in the Employment Class Action practice group. She is committed to understanding the industry in which clients operate and provides counsel to employers on a variety of employment and litigation matters. From early resolution through trial, Erica has experience in all facets of litigation. Erica focuses on providing creative yet practical advice and case strategy that aligns with clients’ business objectives. Erica represents corporate and individual clients in complex employment litigation issues, including:

• Discrimination and retaliation claims

• Wrongful termination

• Wage and hour disputes

Prior to joining Polsinelli, Erica worked at an international employment law firm where she exclusively represented employers in labor and employment matters.