African American woman working in a business that follows the CROWN Act.

New Jersey’s CROWN Act Bans Discrimination Based on Hairstyle

By Douglas Lipsky

On December 19, 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation amending the state’s Law Against Discrimination to include hairstyle discrimination as a form of prohibited race-based discrimination. The Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act (“CROWN Act”) became effective immediately, making New Jersey the third state, along with New York and California, to ban discrimination based on hairstyle.

The new law was enacted in response to an incident in December 2018 in which a referee forced a high school wrestler to cut his locs to participate in a competition or forfeit. 

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

How Does the CROWN Act Work in New Jersey?

The CROWN Act amends the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) to include traits historically associated with race such as hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles. In particular, the term “protective hairstyles” includes twists, locs, or braids. The law essentially adopts guidance issued by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) in September 2019 interpreting the LAD’s prohibition on race-based discrimination to include hairstyle discrimination, particularly as it relates to hairstyles associated with African-Americans. 

Under the CROWN Act, a grooming policy that prohibits such hairstyles, requires an employee to alter his or her hairstyle to conform to the company’s appearance standards, or that bans Black hairstyles in response to customer preferences may be considered discriminatory. It is also unlawful for employers to harass employees based on aspects of their appearance associated with their race. 

Why This Matters

The CROWN Act was modeled after similar laws in New York and California, both of which were enacted in July 2019. Currently, a number of other states and municipalities are considering legislation that would prohibit hairstyle discrimination. In short, employers in New Jersey should review their grooming policies and employee handbooks to ensure they are in compliance with the CROWN Act. 

At the same time, employees who believe they have been discriminated against based on their hairstyle have powerful legal recourse. An individual who claims a violation of the CROWN Act can file a discrimination complaint with the DCR or file a lawsuit directly in state court. A successful claimant may be able to recover damages, including lost wages, emotional distress, punitive damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees. If you believe you have been discriminated against based on your protected hairstyle, the best way to enforce your rights is to consult an experienced employment law attorney.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.