Massachusetts: Discrimination On The Basis Of Hair Texture And Style Is Now Illegal

A bill signed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker on July 26, 2022, prohibits discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles in the workplace, school districts, and some school-related organizations. Natural and protective hairstyles, including braids, locks, twists, and Bantu knots, are specifically included by the new Massachusetts statute and are thus no longer grounds for discrimination in the state of Massachusetts.

In codifying the CROWN Act, Massachusetts joins more than a dozen other states and cities that have approved similar laws. Many states, including New York and California, have implemented CROWN Acts in response to high-profile cases regarding grooming standards for black or African American people, including a 2017 incident in which a local charter school claimed 15-year-old twins were in violation of the school’s dress code for having braids and directed the children to alter their hair. The school amended its policy in response to widespread criticism.

The House of Representatives has enacted the CROWN Act, but the Senate has yet to do so. Reports say that President Joe Biden will sign the federal CROWN Act.

In the state of Massachusetts, an employee who can prove that their employer discriminated against them may be entitled to economic and compensatory damages, punitive penalties, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

As a result of the CROWN Act’s adoption, Massachusetts companies may want to check their employee handbook and grooming policy to verify that they do not prohibit specific haircuts. Employers in the state should also consider teaching their workers, particularly supervisors, managers, and anyone else who has hiring authority, about their clothing and grooming regulations and their EEO policies. 

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