On December 19, 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law a bill entitled the “Create a Respectful and Open Workspace for Natural Hair Act” or “CROWN Act”, which amends the Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) and prohibits discrimination in the workplace and schools based on hairstyle or texture that is attributed with race. New Jersey is just the third state after New York and California to enact such legislation.
The CROWN Act, which specifically mentions “braids, locks, and twists” was prompted in large part by what occurred in December of 2018 to Andrew Johnson, a black high school junior and wrestler at Buena Regional High in Atlantic County. The white referee told Johnson that he had to either cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit the match, claiming that the hair covering that Johnson had was insufficient. The video of Johnson getting his locks cut off at the sideline went viral. In addition to the legislation, the incident led to the suspension of the wrestling meet’s referee and the issuance of a new “Guidance on Race Discrimination Based on Hairstyle” by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.
The CROWN Act passed through the legislature with substantial support. Governor Murphy said in a statement that “no one should be made to feel uncomfortable or be discriminated against because of their natural hair.” With this amendment to the LAD, New Jersey law now specifically prohibits discrimination against people in the workplace and in places of public accommodation “because of traits historically associated with race, particularly . . . discrimination based on hair texture and style.” Hairstyles that are protected include, but are not limited to, braids, locks, and twists.
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