Client Alert: CROWN Act and Employer Anti-Discrimination Policies

On July 26, 2022, Governor Baker signed into law the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (“CROWN”) Act, which prohibits discrimination based upon hair texture or hairstyles associated with race, including, but not limited to, natural and protective hairstyles like braids, locks, twists and Bantu knots. Massachusetts follows seventeen states in codifying such protections, including Connecticut and New York, and follows a number of high-profile incidents involving grooming standards and Black or African-American individuals. A similar bill at the federal level was passed by the House of Representatives and will be considered by the Senate.

The Massachusetts law became effective upon the Governor’s signature. It permits an employee who proves discrimination by an employer on this basis to recover economic and compensatory damages, punitive damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

In light of the CROWN Act, Massachusetts employers should consider reviewing their employee handbooks and, in particular, any equal employment opportunity (EEO), grooming, or hygiene policies to ensure they do not violate the law. Employers should also consider training employees and supervisors on their grooming and EEO policies.

If you are a Massachusetts employer, and you have any questions regarding the CROWN Act or your employee handbooks, please contact one of our employment lawyers.