Texas has become the 22nd state to pass the CROWN Act – Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act – which essentially prohibits employers, labor unions, and employment agencies, from discriminating against any employee “on the basis of hair texture or protective hairstyle associated with race."
The Act covers workplace, schools, and housing policies. Discrimination based on hair texture or hairstyle results in a denial of basic civil rights, including educational, housing, employment opportunities, and places of public accommodation.
On May 27, 2023, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law H.B. 567 - amending Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code by adding section 21.1095. The Act was authored and introduced by Texas State Rep. Rhetta A. Bowers (D-Garland). It overwhelmingly passed both the Texas Senate with a 29-1 vote and the House with a 143-5 vote.
The CROWN Act will become effective statewide on Sept. 1, 2023. National CROWN Day was celebrated earlier this week on July 3, 2023.
“An employer, labor union, or employment agency commits an unlawful employment practice if the employer, labor union, or employment agency adopts or enforces a dress or grooming policy that discriminates against a hair texture or protective hairstyle commonly associated with race.”
According to the act’s language, “protective hairstyle” includes braids, locks, and twists.
Similar language applies to institutions of higher education – “any student dress or grooming policy adopted by an institution of higher education, including a student dress or grooming policy for any extracurricular activity, may not discriminate against a hair texture or protective hairstyle commonly or historically associated with race.”
History of the CROWN Act
Photo courtesy thecrownact.com
The CROWN Act was first introduced in in 2019 to eliminate hair discrimination across the country as part of a national civil rights and anti-discrimination movement driven by the CROWN Coalition. In July 2019, California became the first state to pass the Act, expanding the definition of race in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and state Education Code to ensure protection in workplaces and K-12 public and charter schools.
In January 2020, Texas took center stage in a hotly-contested hairstyle debate when Barbers Hill ISD administrators informed two Black high school students that they had to cut their hair or face consequences of suspension and failure to walk for graduation. The policy stated that male students must keep their hair ear-length or shorter. The students did not comply, and in instead, filed lawsuits against the school district – Arnold v. Barbers Hill Independent School District – alleging the policy was discriminatorily construed and enforced.
In February 2020, members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus announced the intent to bring forth a version of the CROWN Act to the 2021 legislative session.
In August 2020, the U.S. District Court in Houston overturned the school district’s grooming policy. The students and families were represented by the NAACP’s Legal and Defense and Educational Fund.
Various versions of the CROWN Act have now passed in the following states: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.
In 2022, there was an attempt at passing a federal CROWN Act, but approval failed in the Senate after passing in the House.
It is important to note that, in addition to states, more than 50 municipalities have passed their own versions of the CROWN Act.
For instance, Austin, Texas, passed the CROWN Act on June 9, 2022, so municipal laws within that city amend City Code to revise the definition of “discriminatory employment practice” to include “protective hairstyles - this means a hairstyle necessitated by, or resulting from, the characteristics of a hair texture or hairstyle commonly associated with race, national origin, ethnicity, or culture, and includes but is not limited to afros, bantu knots, braids, cornrows, curls, locs, twists, or hair that is tightly coiled or tightly curled.”
Next Steps for Employers and Administrators
Employers and administrators need to take the time to fully comprehend and understand the specific language within the Act, not only as it applies to the recent Act passed in Texas, but the language passed in each state and municipality in which your business conducts operations.
Consult with your legal counsel to review workplace dress and grooming policies and employee handbooks, accordingly. Take the time to have open conversations with fellow leaders to determine if the policies reflect a neutral approach to hairstyles in the workplace or within your school. If that policy does not reflect neutrality, then how should the language be changed to comply with the law?
Once you feel those policies reflect the needed language, communicate those policies to managers, supervisors, and your employees, to ensure everyone is on the same page.
About Craig Wilcox: Adams and Reese Partner Craig Wilcox is board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Labor and Employment Law. Practicing in the firm’s Houston office, Craig is a trial lawyer with extensive experience in employment, complex commercial, and personal injury litigation. He defends employers in cases involving discrimination, harassment, breaches of employment agreements, wrongful termination, retaliatory discharge, non-compete agreements, Fair Labor Standards Acts, claims and collective actions and trade secrets, and has represented employers in administrative proceedings with the EEOC, Department of Labor, and Texas Workforce Commission.