hairstyle discrimination

Discriminating against Black job applicants or employees in New Jersey because of their natural hairstyle is illegal. You have a right to take legal action if you have experienced discrimination based on your hairstyle or texture. 

At Castronovo & McKinney, LLC, we work to protect employees from all forms of discrimination, including natural hairstyle discrimination. Whether you have suffered overt discrimination because of your hairstyle or been treated less fairly than others due to an unfair grooming policy, we can help. When you meet with us, we will assess the merits of your claim, explore your options, and protect your rights. Contact our office today for a consultation.

What Is Natural Hairstyle Discrimination?

Natural hairstyle discrimination is prohibited in New Jersey under the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act (CROWN Act). The CROWN Act expands the definition of racial discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) to include discrimination based on traits historically associated with race, such as hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles.

The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) issued Guidance on Race Discrimination Based on Hairstyle clarifying what constitutes natural hairstyle discrimination. In particular, employer grooming policies violate the CROWN Act if they expressly prohibit:

  • Twists
  • Braids
  • Cornrows
  • Afros
  • Locs
  • Bantu knots
  • Fades 

The DCR Guidance notes that hairstyle discrimination is rooted in the stereotype that traditionally Black hairstyles are unprofessional or unkempt.

Disparate Impact and Grooming Policies

The CROWN Act addresses both direct discrimination and disparate impact in the workplace. 

Seemingly neutral policies that require employees to maintain a professional, neat, or tidy appearance violate the LAD if they are discriminatorily applied or selectively enforced against Black employees.

That means grooming policies barring Black workers from wearing shoulder-length locs or braids are illegal if those policies allow other employees with shoulder-length hair. Also, grooming policies that include terms such as “professional,” “neat,” and “tidy” may have a disparate impact on black employees. 

A grooming policy that is being unevenly applied to one group of employees of a similar background more than others is forbidden, whether intentional or not. The guidance also advises that grooming policies may not be justified based on:

  • An employer’s desire to project a corporate image 
  • Concerns about customer complaints
  • Speculative health or safety concerns

Moreover, grooming policies related to health and safety concerns must be due to objective, factual evidence, not assumptions that a natural hairstyle poses a greater risk of harm to the employee or others. For example, longer hair may get caught in machinery, or food handlers must wear hair nets. Even if the concerns are legitimate, they must be applied evenly.

Does The New Jersey CROWN Act Only Apply to African American Hair?

The CROWN Act also protects communities with a cultural or religious connection to uncut hair. For example, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Native Americans, Rastafarians, and other sects who wear cultural hairstyles, such as beards, side curls (payos), long braids, and dreadlocks, may also experience hairstyle discrimination in the workplace.

How Does the CROWN Act Protect New Jersey Workers?

If you are an employee who wears your hair in a natural or cultural hairstyle, your employer cannot:

  • Prohibit natural or cultural hairstyles in their employee policies 
  • Fire you for having an afro, dreads, or another natural hairstyle
  • Refuse to promote you due to your hairstyle
  • Retaliate against you for complaining about hairstyle discrimination 

In addition, the law forbids workplace harassment based on your hairstyle. 

How Our Firm Can Help

Although the CROWN  Act became effective in December 2019, hairstyle discrimination persists in many workplaces. If you have experienced discrimination because of your natural or cultural hairstyle, turn to Castronovo & McKinney. When you meet with us, a dedicated hairstyle discrimination attorney will handle your claim and fight to protect your rights. 

Although employers know how to disguise their discriminatory motives, you can trust us to hold them accountable. We work to settle discrimination claims through negotiations but are well-prepared to litigate to achieve the desired outcome. Depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to compensation that includes damages such as:

  • Lost wages
  • Emotional distress
  • Compensatory damages for pain and suffering
  • Liquidated damages
  • Attorney fees and court costs

You may be reluctant to take legal action, but your employer cannot fire, demote, or harass you for complaining about hairstyle discrimination or exercising your legal rights. Rest assured, we will stand by you and help you stand up for your rights.

Contact Our Experienced New Jersey Hairstyle Discrimination Attorney

At Castronovo & McKinney, we believe that wearing a natural or cultural hairstyle is about your right to freedom of expression. The best way to fight hairstyle discrimination is to have our legal team at your side. Contact us today so we can start working on your claim.