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On July 26, 2022, Massachusetts joined 17 other states in prohibiting racial discrimination based on an individual’s natural hairstyle. The Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act (the “Crown Act”), which was passed unanimously by the Massachusetts Legislature, bans discrimination based upon natural and protective hairstyles in workplaces, school districts, and in public accommodations such as hotels, stores, and restaurants. The Crown Act also prohibits discrimination based upon natural and protective hairstyles in housing and lending.
Specifically, the Crown Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of an individual’s hair texture or hairstyles which include, but are not limited to, braids, lock twists, and Bantu knots. The Crown Act amends the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act, M.G.L. c. 151B, as well as the Massachusetts Public Accommodations Law, M.G.L. c. 272, § 98. A similar bill was passed by the United States House of Representatives earlier this year but has yet to be decided on by the United States Senate.
The Crown Act was established in light of two Boston area twins, Mya and Deanna Cook, who made national headlines when they were disciplined by their charter high school in 2017 for wearing their hair in braids with long extensions, which school administrators said violated school policy. As a result of the school’s disciplining of Mya and Deanna Cook, the NCAAP and Massachusetts ACLU filed a complaint with the Education Department, claiming the school’s policy was racially discriminatory. The school eventually changed its policy as a result.
Employers should be aware that employees who establish workplace discrimination based upon their natural and protective hairstyles may be entitled to recover economic and compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees. Employers should immediately update their handbooks and ensure that supervisors are aware of this important amendment to the Fair Employment Practice Act.
For more information, or for assistance updating applicable workplace policies, please contact Jennifer Markowski at [email protected], R. Victoria Fuller at [email protected], or Matthew Mattie at [email protected].