The old saying “Get a haircut kid,” may have been popular during the 1960s, but today it could cause problems in the workplace. A suit filed last week in San Diego Superior Court is believed to be one of the first lawsuits in U.S. history involving the CROWN Act.

The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” is a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination, which is the denial of employment and opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locks, twists or bantu knots. The new law, under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), took effect in California in January.

In the suit, Jeffrey Thornton, an employee of an event management company, claims he was discriminated against when he was told he would need to cut his hair, which Thornton wears in locks. The amended FEHA specifically lists locks as among the types of hairstyles subject to protection.

Although Thornton’s employer maintains this was simply a miscommunication, the lawsuit is a reminder to U.S. employers to closely examine their dress code and grooming policies to ensure they address the CROWN Act, in addition to the appropriate training of supervisors.

California’s FEHA has long prohibited discrimination against applicants and employees based on race and color. Lawmakers passed SB 188, known as the CROWN Act, in 2019. It amended the FEHA to include discrimination based on “traits associated with race, including hair texture and protective hairstyles.”

The CROWN Act was designed to target workplace grooming policies that may be discriminatory towards employees of color. This topic was even the subject of a segment on the HBO program “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”.

Employers outside of California should also take note. To date, 13 other states have passed similar legislation including Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington. Similar legislation is being considered in Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Federal versions of the law have also been introduced in both the House and Senate.

A famous movie star once said, “Having a bad haircut can be quite traumatic!” In the workplace, restricting an employee’s haircut could be equally traumatic in court.

The information and opinions expressed are for educational purposes only and are based on current practice, industry related knowledge and business expertise. The information provided shall not be construed as legal advice, express or implied.