An Update on the CROWN Act

An Update on the CROWN ActHair is often considered an expression of one’s personal identity, heritage, and ancestry. However, many Black and brown people feel pressured to leave their natural selves behind in the interest of avoiding hair-based discrimination.

According to the 2023 CROWN Workplace Research Study, Black women’s hair is more than twice as likely as white women’s hair to be perceived as “unprofessional,” and as a result, approximately two-thirds of Black women change their hairstyle in preparation for a job interview. Many incidents of hair-based discrimination occur well before students begin their careers—in early 2020, 9-year-old Ava Russell was sent home for wearing her curls down instead of in her customary bun, and Texas teen Deandre Arnold was prevented from participating in his high school graduation ceremony because of his locks.

What is the CROWN Act?

CROWN, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” is a legislative initiative seeking to end discrimination based on natural hairstyles and textures, particularly those associated with people of African descent. Its protections address systemic racism in the workforce and seek to help Black and brown people avoid severe consequences to their livelihoods due to discrimination, e.g., losing a job or being prevented from pursuing education for a desired career because of their hairstyle.

The CROWN Act addresses the discriminatory practices and policies that disproportionately affect individuals with natural hairstyles and seeks to ensure that individuals are not subject to bias, prejudice, or adverse actions in the workplace, schools, or other public spaces due to their natural hair. Grooming policies rooted in cultural insensitivity and bias often target certain styles, including afros, braids, twists, and dreadlocks.

The CROWN Act was passed in the U.S. House in March 2022 but did not clear the Senate and has not yet been reintroduced. Twenty-four U.S. states have passed or introduced legislation inspired by the CROWN Act prohibiting hair discrimination. The Georgia House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act in March 2022, and Senator Tonya Anderson reintroduced it in the state Senate in February 2023.

What are the consequences of hair-based discrimination?

Hair-based discrimination can have various negative effects on individuals who experience it. The impact can be both emotional and professional. Here are some of the potential effects:

  • Emotional and psychological impact: Discrimination based on hair can contribute to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, particularly if individuals are made to feel that their natural hair is unprofessional or unacceptable. Constant scrutiny or negative reactions to one’s natural hair can also increase stress and anxiety, affecting overall mental well-being.
  • Professional consequences: Individuals may face limitations in career advancement or employment opportunities if their natural hairstyles are deemed unprofessional or unacceptable by certain employers. Discrimination can also result in job loss, denial of job opportunities, or workplace harassment, potentially impacting financial stability.
  • Cultural and identity impact: Hair discrimination can erode cultural identities, as natural hairstyles are often deeply rooted in cultural and ethnic heritage. Some individuals may feel pressured to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards, leading to a loss of cultural authenticity and identity.
  • Educational challenges: Students may face discrimination based on their natural hair in educational settings, impacting their ability to learn and contributing to a negative school environment.
  • Legal and advocacy issues: Victims of hair discrimination may need to challenge discriminatory practices in court, a time-consuming and emotionally draining process.

Efforts to combat hair-based discrimination aim to speak to and remedy these negative consequences by promoting inclusivity, preventing discrimination based on natural hairstyles, and creating a more equitable and respectful environment for individuals of diverse backgrounds and hair textures.

What should I do if I have experienced workplace discrimination because of my hair?

If you have experienced workplace discrimination because of your hair, it’s important to take the following steps to address the issue:

  • Read workplace policies: Familiarize yourself with your company’s policies and procedures related to discrimination and harassment, and understand the channels available for reporting such incidents.
  • Document the incident: Keep detailed records of all discriminatory incidents, including dates, times, locations, people involved, and a description of what happened.
  • Report the discrimination: Report the discrimination to the appropriate individuals or departments within your organization, including your supervisor, human resources director, or a designated equal employment opportunity (EEO) officer.
  • Follow internal procedures: Follow any internal procedures outlined in your company’s policies for reporting discrimination, which might involve submitting a formal complaint or participating in an internal investigation.
  • Seek support: Talk to colleagues, friends, or family members about your experience. Workplace discrimination can be emotionally challenging, and having a support system can be beneficial.
  • Know your rights: Familiarize yourself with local, state, and federal laws related to workplace discrimination. In the U.S., Title VII of the Civil Rights Act forbids discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, which may include discrimination based on hairstyles associated with racial or ethnic identity.
  • Contact external agencies: In some cases, you may choose to file a complaint with external agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Check your local laws for relevant agencies in your jurisdiction.
  • Advocate for change: Consider advocating for policy changes within your organization to address and prevent future incidents of hair-based discrimination.
  • Consult with legal counsel: If internal resolutions are ineffective, consider consulting with an employment lawyer to understand your rights and explore legal options.

It’s important to prioritize your safety and well-being throughout this process. The steps you take may depend on your circumstances and the laws in your jurisdiction. Consult with workplace advocacy organizations or the Atlanta-based discrimination attorneys at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew for guidance unique to your situation.

Have you faced discrimination in Georgia based on the style of your hair? Call us or fill out our contact form to schedule an initial consultation with an experienced employment lawyer today.