What is the Crown Act?
This addition to Connecticut State law makes it illegal to discriminate based on a person’s hair texture or protective hairstyle, like braids, locs or twists, in employment, public accommodations, housing, credit practices, union membership, and state agency practices. The “CROWN” in CROWN Act is an acronym for the bill’s official title, “An Act Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”. The legislation is aimed at protecting people of color, particularly African American people, from discrimination based upon their hair.
When Does it Go into Effect?
The CROWN Act was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Lamont in early March 2021. The Act went into effect immediately upon signing.
How Will it Impact My Workplace?
The CROWN Act changes the definition of the word “race” as it is used in Connecticut’s anti-discrimination statutes to specifically include “ethnic traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” Under the law, protective hairstyles include “wigs, headwraps and hairstyles such as individual braids, cornrows, locs, twists, Bantu knots, afros and afro puffs.”
Any employer with a dress or appearance policy should review that policy immediately to make sure that it does not prohibit any of the hairstyles covered by the law, either explicitly or by implication. Employers should consider avoiding the use of subjective hair or grooming requirements, like hairstyles should be “professional”, as these terms can be difficult to define and apply. While policies requiring hair be kept neat and clean are likely still permissible, employers should ensure the policy is equally applied across all employees and hairstyles. Remember, state and federal anti-discrimination laws not only prohibit policies that are discriminatory on their face, but also prohibit those that create a “disparate impact’ on a particular race or gender (just to name two examples) as applied. Employers should train managers to understand the requirements of their grooming code and how to avoid discriminatory application of requirements.
What are the Next Steps?
While the Crown Act focuses on discrimination based on an individual’s hair, the law’s language leaves open the possibility that discrimination based on other “ethnic traits historically associated with race” may form the basis of a racial discrimination claim. It makes sense for employers to review the entirety of their workplace policies through this lens. Employers may also want to mandate implicit bias training for managers who are part of hiring or promotion decisions, or who enforce dress or appearance guidelines. Finally, employers should make sure that there is a process in place for requesting accommodations of all dress code requirements for cultural, religious or other reasons.
What is the Takeaway?
An increasing number of states are mandating workplace policies that respect all aspects of employees’ identities. Eight states have now passed a version of the CROWN Act, including New York and New Jersey; more than 20 other states and the United States Senate have introduced a version of the law. The passage of the CROWN Act in Connecticut serves as an important reminder that employers should be proactive in reviewing their workplace policies to ensure they adhere to the current standards. Doing so both fosters increased diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace and avoids opening the door to claims of discrimination.
Amanda C. Nugent is a partner in Carmody’s Labor & Employment and Litigation practice groups. She leads Carmody’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Team and assists clients with developing and implementing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and trainings.
This information is for educational purposes only to provide general information and a general understanding of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not establish any attorney-client relationship.