California law now bans discrimination due to a person’s natural hair texture

September 16, 2019
A change in California law is aimed at protecting people with hair textures and styles associated with their race from discrimination, according to a news brief from the law firm of Lozano Smith. This summer, the California Legislature passed SB 188, known as the CROWN Act, which amends the definition of “race” contained in state anti-discrimination laws under both the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Education Code to include “hair texture and protective hairstyles.” The new law does not mean that public agencies have to change their dress codes unless specific hair texture and hairstyles are specified in their policy. Rather, the new law clarifies that dress codes may be considered discriminatory if they explicitly or implicitly affect individuals who have their hair textured or styled in a manner historically associated with their race.  Courts and administrative agencies have routinely and clearly established that public agencies have a management prerogative to impose non-discriminatory employee dress code policies. 
Indeed, in the K-12 school context, there is a heightened importance associated with standards for professional appearance because employees’ behavior is often imitated or modeled by students. Similarly, courts have held that school districts may impose viewpoint neutral and content neutral dress code policies for students as long as they are implemented in a consistent and equal manner among all students. According to the news brief, the new law reaffirms a public agency’s control over dress code policies for employees and students. These dress code policies will be lawful so long as they are imposed in a valid and non-discriminatory manner with no disparate impact on individuals based on their dress and appearance’s association with a protected characteristic. Lozano Smith advises public agencies to review their existing dress code enforcement practices to ensure compliance with SB 188. In addition, public agencies may consider conducting implicit bias training and refocus practices to ensure inclusivity and compliance with this new law. To read this complete brief, visit www.LozanoSmith.com.

© 2019 Association of California School Administrators