Understanding Hairstyle Discrimination in New Jersey
Discrimination in the workplace, school, and elsewhere based on hairstyles historically or culturally associated with race is unfortunately a common occurrence. For this reason, New Jersey recently banned discrimination based on an individual’s hairstyle under the CROWN Act (S3945). This means that it is not only illegal to prohibit particular hair traits/styles that are historically associated with race in the context of employment discrimination, but also in housing and school sectors (“in public spaces”). In addition to hair types and textures that are considered “protective hairstyles,” some specific hairstyles that were included as covered under the law are:
- Bantu knots
With offices in Marlton and Red Bank, NJ, the employment discrimination lawyers at McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C., have an impressive track record of handling all discrimination cases and not only recovering substantial damages for victims of discrimination, but also assisting employers in preventing these unfortunate occurrences in the first place.
Protections Under the CROWN Act
According to the CROWN coalition, Black women are 1.5 times as likely to be sent home because of their hair, and 80% more likely than white women to have to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office. The CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) is led by a coalition of many companies and organizations including Dove, Color of Change, and the National Urban League. The Act is designed to prohibited race-based hairstyle discrimination in the workplace, schools, and public spaces, and applies to both men and women.
New Jersey became the third state to sign the law in December 2019 – a total of seven states have now adopted the CROWN Act, and it has been introduced in twenty-five more states. The new mandate is part of the existing New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), and was passed as an amendment to NJLAD. It is also linked to Guidance that was released earlier in the year by the state, which provides some additional specificity on what employers and others cannot do, such as putting forth “professional appearance” requirements that have the effect of discriminating against certain hairstyles. Historically, this has been done to target Black employees with braids, and this can now be the subject of litigation thanks to the CROWN Act.
Employer Requirements Regarding Hairstyle Discrimination
Employers should assume that any act of employment discrimination against protected classes now also applies to hairstyle. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Race Discrimination
- Color Discrimination
- National Origin Discrimination
- Age Discrimination
- Gender Discrimination
- LGBT / Sexual Orientation Discrimination
- Marital Status Discrimination
- Disability Discrimination
- Pregnancy Discrimination
- Religious Discrimination
- Transgender Discrimination
This means that employers must be careful not to take any of the following disciplinary actions based on hairstyle:
- Demotion, decreased hours, increased scrutiny, or denied promotions and raises
- Allowing or engaging in harassment such as jokes or slurs, or creating a hostile work environment
- Refusal to hire
- Retaliation for a making a complaint or any other reason
- Refusal of certain positions that involve interacting with the public
The CROWN Act Does Not Only Apply to Employers
As attorneys who represent a range of employers who are seeking to prevent, investigate, and defend against discrimination claims, as well as employees who face discrimination, it is important to point out that this law is not limited to employers. In fact, it came about in response to an incident that involved a high school wrestler being forced to cut off his dreadlocks so that he could compete. In addition to the workplace, the CROWN Act applies in:
- Schools or universities.
- Housing contexts including apartments.
- Places of public accommodation including restaurants, hotels, stores, or entertainment venues.
Where Do I File A Hairstyle Discrimination Complaint?
If you believe your employer has discriminated against you based on your hairstyle, you should contact an employment discrimination attorney first to discuss your rights and options.
After speaking with a lawyer, your next move will most likely be to file an internal complaint with your company’s human resources department or labor union. This gives your employer an opportunity to resolve the issue without having to go through the legal process. If you are not satisfied with your company’s response after going through the proper channels, it may be time to consider a lawsuit. However, before filing an internal complaint, you should speak to an attorney.
How Employers Can Prevent Hairstyle Discrimination Lawsuits
For employers, the key to successfully resolving hairstyle discrimination issues is by taking proactive measures to prevent, investigate, address, and defend possible claims. Our law firm provides legal guidance to employers in a variety of situations, from defending against a discrimination claim to creating policies that will reduce the risk of future incidents.
Contact Our New Jersey Hairstyle Discrimination Attorneys With Any Questions
Every person should be treated with respect in their place of work, school, housing, or elsewhere, regardless of their hairstyle. If you have experienced a hostile work environment or suffered hairstyle discrimination in the workplace such as termination, demotion, or harassment, contact us online today for a free consultation.
Not only should employers review any and all policies and practices, as well as provide training to other employees (especially anyone in a supervisory position), but the same applies to certain individuals who work in schools, athletic competitions, and housing authorities. Contact our attorneys today to set up a free consultation and find out more about our services for both employers and employees.