September 26, 2022

Volume XII, Number 269

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September 26, 2022

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New Massachusetts Law Creates Expanded Definition of Racial Discrimination in Employment and Other Areas to Encompass “Natural or Protective Hairstyles”

On July 26, 2022, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act (“CROWN Act”) into law, making Massachusetts the 18th state to enact legislation aimed at protecting against discrimination on the basis of hairstyles that are historically associated with race. The CROWN Act will go into effect October 24, 2022, 90 days after Governor Baker signed the bill.

The Massachusetts law amends the definition of “race” across several Massachusetts statutes, including but not limited to the public accommodations law (M.G.L. c. 272), and the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act (M.G.L. c. 151B), to provide that protections against discrimination include “traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, hair length, and protective hairstyles.”  See H.B. 4554.  These amendments expose Massachusetts employers to potential discrimination claims brought by employees alleging employment discrimination on the basis of their hairstyle.  Employers who are found to be in violation of the CROWN Act will be liable for compensatory damages, including for instance lost pay, as well as possible punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.  The law further defines “protective hairstyles” to include “braids, locks, twists, Bantu knots, hair coverings and other formations.”  In addition, the law expressly prohibits schools and related organizations from implementing or creating policies or codes relating to student participation in sports or athletic events “that impairs or prohibits a hairstyle that is historically associated with race.”

The law also tasks the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”) with adopting and promulgating rules, regulations, policies, and recommendations to enforce the law.

The CROWN ACT was inspired by a case involving two teenage girls.  In 2017, a Boston suburb charter school disciplined two teenage twin sisters for alleged violation of the school hair and make-up policy, which among things, prohibited extensions.  The sisters, Deanna and Mya Cook, joined Governor Baker at the bill’s signing.

Conclusions and Recommendations

In light of the law’s impact on Massachusetts statutes and discrimination laws, Massachusetts employers should carefully review their employee handbooks, policies, and training materials to ensure they are not violation of the CROWN Act, and promptly remove or amend any problematic policies on the books.  Additionally, employers may want to consider using this opportunity to provide managers and supervisory personnel with updated discrimination training highlighting the effect of the new law.

© 2022 Proskauer Rose LLP. National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 223
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About this Author

Mark W Batten, Labor & Employment Attorney, Proskauer Law Firm
Partner

Mark Batten is a Partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-head of the Class/Collective Action Group, resident in the Boston office.

Mark represents employers nationwide at all stages of complex employment litigation, including class and collective actions on wage and hour matters and discrimination claims. Ranked by Chambers USA, Mark is hailed as “a fabulous lawyer, handling interesting and complex cases.” Clients “highly recommend him to anyone seeking litigation counsel in the Boston area,” as well as note “he is...

617-526-9850
Associate

Lexie Reynolds is an associate in the Labor & Employment Law Department, and a member of the Employment Law Counseling & Training, Employment Litigation & Arbitration, and the Discriminatory, Harassment, and Title VII Practice Groups. Lexie’s practice covers a wide range of matters with a focus on internal corporate and government investigations. She has represented private and public companies, boards of directors and their committees, and individuals across many different industries including entertainment, financial services, and technology.

...
617-526-9603
Makenzie D. Way Labor & Employment Litigation Law Clerk Proskauer Rose Boston, MA
Law Clerk

Makenzie Way is a law clerk in the Labor Department and a member of the Employment Litigation & Arbitration Group. Makenzie also has experience working as a mediator with the Penn Law Mediation Clinic.

Makenzie earned her J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she was a deans scholar and editor of the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law and Social Change (online). During law school, Makenzie earned a Certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution after completing the Alternative Dispute Resolution Transnational Program at Waseda Law School in...

617-526-9841
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