California bans discrimination based on natural hair

On July 3, 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 188 (the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair ‘CROWN’ Act) into law, making California the first state in the country to ban discrimination against natural hair. The text of the bill states that, “[d]espite the great strides American society and laws have made to reverse the racist ideology that Black traits are inferior, hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for Black individuals.”

The legislation declares that federal courts have accepted that the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, including discrimination against afros. However, afros are not the only natural presentation of Black hair. Hair has historically been one of many distinctive factors of a person’s race in the United States and remains emblematic of race. The Legislature recognized that continuing to enforce a Eurocentric image of professionalism through purportedly race-neutral grooming policies disparately impacted Black individuals and excluded them from some workplaces in opposition to equity and opportunity for all.

SB 188 therefore makes it illegal for employers and schools to enforce policies that would discriminate against people wearing natural hair, specifically including, but not limited to, braids, locks and twists. The legislation will revise Education Code section 212.1, defining “race or ethnicity” to include traits historically associated with race, including hair texture and “protective hairstyles” which includes, but is not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks and twists.

School districts should ensure their dress code policies are not enforced in ways that could disadvantage students wearing natural hair, including protective hairstyles.

SB 188 goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

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