Massachusetts Enacts Law Banning Discrimination Based on Hair Texture and Style

On July 26, 2022, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (“CROWN”) Act that bans discrimination based upon natural and protective hairstyles in workplaces, school districts and certain school-related organizations.  Specifically, the new Massachusetts law prohibits discrimination on the basis of hair texture or hairstyles associated with race, including, but not limited to, natural and protective hairstyles, such as braids, locks, twists and Bantu knots.

By codifying the CROWN Act, Massachusetts joins more than a dozen states and localities that have passed similar legislation.  And like other states that have recently passed CROWN Acts, Massachusetts’ legislation follows a number of high-profile incidents involving grooming standards and Black or African-American individuals, including a 2017 incident in which a local charter school claimed that 15-year-old twins violated the school’s dress code by wearing braids and instructed the students to change their hair. After an intense public outcry, the school changed its policy.

A federal CROWN Act has passed the House of Representatives, though it has not passed the Senate. President Joe Biden has indicated he would sign a federal CROWN Act.

Under the Massachusetts law, an employee who proves their employer discriminated against them may be entitled to recover economic and compensatory damages, punitive damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

In light of the CROWN Act’s passage, Massachusetts employers should consider reviewing their employee handbook and any grooming policies to ensure that the policies do not violate the CROWN Act by banning certain hairstyles.  Employers operating in the state should also consider training employees, especially supervisors, managers, and anyone who makes hiring decisions, on their dress and grooming policies, as well as their EEO policies.  We recommend employers work with experienced employment counsel to ensure their policies and practices comply with the new law.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.