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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

My NJ Employer Doesn’t Like My Hairstyle, CROWN Act

Centuries of racial oppression and strife unfortunately have not been eliminated within a few generations. Despite the passage of civil rights statutes making it illegal to discriminate based on race, cultural racism still has a persisting existence manifesting in many of this country’s cultural ideologies and institutional and business practices. The implementation of anti-discrimination statutes often fail when the statute does not list specific examples of such underlying cultural bias. The passage of laws to outlaw cultural bias, which do define specific examples of systemic racism, is helpful to nudge the country forward toward eliminating centuries’ old underlying cultural bias.

One such law to outlaw cultural bias is the CROWN Act, signed by NJ Gov. Murphy in December of 2019. This Act acknowledges that the elimination of race discrimination includes the elimination of  discrimination based on traits inextricably intertwined with race, including a person’s hairstyle.

U.S. Senator Cory Booker unveiled this bill in the beginning of December 2019, banning discrimination based on hair textures and hairstyles that are commonly associated with a particular race or national origin. “Discrimination against black hair is discrimination against black people......Implicit and explicit biases against natural hair are deeply ingrained in workplace norms and society at large. This is a violation of our civil rights, and it happens every day for black people across the country... No one should be harassed, punished, or fired for the beautiful hairstyles that are true to themselves and their cultural heritage.”

The CROWN Act is an acronym for “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act”. It was a legislative response to lawsuits where an employee was terminated or a child  dismissed from school because they wore their hair exactly how it grows. The CROWN Act, amended the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) by specifically defining race discrimination due to include discrimination based upon “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles” such as braids, locks, and twists.This Legislation followed numerous recent instances of hair discrimination based on race and ethnic origin which sparked a national outcry. As aptly stated by Senator Booker, "Discrimination against black hair is discrimination against black people and no one should be denied a job, an education, or face discrimination because of their hairstyle.”

The amended statute is intended to remove any ambiguity over the broad scope of the NJLAD.

 No employee should ever be told that she/he is unprofessional if they embrace their cultural concepts of beauty with their chosen hairstyles embodying their ethnicity and race. The CROWN Act addresses that Blacks and other persons of color should not be discriminated against because they embrace their own racial and ethnic hairstyles,  whether that be locks, braids, twists or curls.

“Race-based discrimination will not be tolerated in the State of New Jersey,” said Governor Murphy. “No one should be made to feel uncomfortable or be discriminated against because of their natural hair. I am proud to sign this law in order to help ensure that all New Jersey residents can go to work, school, or participate in athletic events with dignity."

There are some exceptions to when an employer can terminate an employee because they do not maintain a certain physical appearance standard however any exception must be a narrowly tailored bona fide occupational qualification and not merely the employer’s personal preference.

Employees should be mindful that they must still adhere to certain public health and safety codes. As in age discrimination prohibitions, this is similar to narrowly-tailored exceptions which require an employee to retire at a certain age in certain defined professions where public safety issues control,  i.e., for example, true safety concerns in some occupations such as for certain airline pilots.

If You Are Thinking of Simply Resigning.

If you are thinking of simply resigning because of race discrimination in your workplace and/or because you notified your employer about racial harassment and no action was taken, you should contact an attorney experienced in employment law before you do so, to explore your legal options in the safest way for you.

What You Can Do.

I am an aggressive and compassionate employment law attorney who is experienced in successfully representing persons who were subjected to racial harassment and retaliation in the workplace and/or were fired. If you have experienced racism at work, or if you reported it and no action was taken, if you are thinking of resigning, or think you will be fired, or have been fired, it is important that you consult with an attorney who is experienced in discrimination.

If you are being subjected to workplace discrimination, contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation.

Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law serves clients throughout New Jersey, including Bergen, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, and Morris Counties with locations in Central, western and northern NJ to meet with clients.



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