Labor & Employment Law Daily Hairstyle discrimination now expressly against the law in New Jersey
Monday, January 6, 2020

Hairstyle discrimination now expressly against the law in New Jersey

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

Although earlier guidance described race discrimination based on hairstyle as likely violating the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, a new law makes clear that it does.

Before 2019 came to a close, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act” (CROWN Act), which clarifies that prohibited race discrimination includes discrimination based on “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles.”

The bill, S. 3945, was introduced in June 2019. On December 16, it cleared the senate by a 38-1 vote; it was finalized the same day in the assembly by a 71-1 ballot. The governor signed it into law on December 19, and it became effective immediately.

Protective hairstyles. The law defines “protective hairstyles” to include “such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.” The legislation, which is modeled after California Senate Bill No. 188 (signed into law as 2019 Cal. Stat. ch. 58 on July 3, 2019) and New York Senate Bill No. 6209 (signed into law as 2019 N.Y. Ch. 95 on July 12, 2019), is intended to remove any confusion or ambiguity about the scope of the New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and its applicability to race discrimination predicated on hairstyles, according to a bill statement.

Earlier guidance. Earlier, in September 2019, the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights issued guidance on how the LAD applies to hairstyles. That guidance is consistent with the new law.

The governor’s office pointed to an incident in which an African-American high school wrestler was forced to cut off his dreadlocks in order to compete in a match on December 19, 2018, exactly one year before Governor Murphy signed S. 3945 into law. This incident prompted both the earlier guidance and the legislation.

“Race-based discrimination will not be tolerated in the State of New Jersey,” Governor Murphy said in a statement. “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.”

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