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New Jersey State Protection Against Hairstyle Discrimination

By Thomas McKinney

Illegal discrimination based on traditionally ethnic hairstyles has been the subject of some heated debate in recent years. There are some hairstyles, such as dreadlocks and cornrows, that, while not exclusively worn by people of color, are still traditionally worn predominantly by members of the black community. Furthermore, these hairstyles are commonly associated with black people and black culture. Because of these strong associations, employer policies that focus on eliminating such hairstyles in the workplace or institute adverse employment actions based on employees with such hairstyles can be a form of discrimination. While the federal government continues to struggle to put protections in place against hairstyle discrimination, New Jersey has had such protections since they were established back in 2019.

New Jersey State Protection Against Hairstyle Discrimination

New Jersey senator Cory Booker proposed the CROWN Act of 2020. The CROWN Act, which stood for “Creating of a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” sought to establish discrimination against natural hairstyles to be a violation of federal anti-discrimination laws. The bill eventually failed in the Senate and a companion measure was defeated in the House of Representatives.

This past February, advocates in Congress attempted once again to put protections in place against discrimination that occurs based on traditionally ethnic, natural, and protective hairstyles. Despite the continued struggle of such legislation to pass, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has explicitly spoken out in opposition to hair discrimination. In fact, the EEOC has asserted that the protected class of race includes the physical and cultural characteristics that are associated with race. This includes both hair texture and hairstyle. There are, however, some federal courts that have rejected the EEOC’s interpretation and that is a big reason why Congressional leaders continue to try and establish federal legislation memorializing such protections against hairstyle discrimination.

New Jersey employers and employees, however, should be aware that the state has had protections against hairstyle discrimination in place since Governor Phil Murphy signed it into law three years ago. The law states that race includes “traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles. Protective hairstyles was clarified as including things such as “braids, locks, and twists.” Employers should be mindful of such protections and avoid putting employment policies in place that explicitly target such hairstyles. Even facially neutral policies risk running in violation of the state protections if an employment policy results in disproportional application against Black employees.

Employment Law Attorneys

At Castronovo & McKinney, we want employees to know that workplace discrimination is a violation of the law. Employers need to be held accountable and employees deserve to be properly compensated for the harm they have suffered as a result of discrimination in the workplace. If you believe you have been discriminated against by your employer, do not hesitate to reach out to our team of dedicated employment law attorneys. Contact us today.

About the Author
Tom McKinney is an experienced NJ Employment Lawyer in all major areas of labor and employment law, including discrimination, harassment, overtime violations, wage and hour claims, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, Title VII, ADA, ADEA, FMLA, LAD, FLSA, and all other employment law claims. Tom is admitted to practice in the States of New Jersey and New York, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Southern District of New York, District of New Jersey, and United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Prior to forming the firm, Tom practiced at Gibbons P.C. in Newark, NJ. If you have any questions regarding this article, contact Tom here today.