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Massachusetts Enacts CROWN Act Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Natural and Protective Hairstyles

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On July 26, 2022, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, which prohibits discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles in the workplace, public schools, and places of public accommodation (such as hotels and restaurants). The Act amends Massachusetts’ existing anti-discrimination laws, adding “hair texture” and “hair type” to the list of already protected categories (e.g., race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation).

Hairstyles protected under the Act include, but are not limited to, “braids, locks, twists, Bantu knots and other formations.” The Act authorizes the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to promulgate rules and regulations to enforce the new protections. The Act will take effect on October 24, 2022.

The law is modeled on the National CROWN Act, a nation-wide effort organized by Dove, National Urban League, Color Of Change, and Western Center on Law & Poverty to advocate for hair discrimination protections at both the state and federal level. In addition to Massachusetts, seventeen other states have passed similar laws prohibiting race-based hair discrimination within the past three years, including Maine, New York, and Connecticut.

Violations of the CROWN Act could lead to compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

To ensure compliance with the new law, Massachusetts employers, schools (both public and independent), and other businesses holding themselves open to the public should review their handbooks and existing equal employment opportunity and anti-discrimination policies, in addition to polices related to dress codes and grooming standards, and determine whether updates are necessary. Furthermore, such entities should consider examining hiring and admissions practices as well as additional training for their employees regarding the requirements of the new law.

Should your business need any assistance with complying with the CROWN Act, please reach out to one of our experienced employment and education attorneys.

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