A Texas student is once again in the news because of his hairstyle. Darryl George, a Black student, has been suspended multiple times because the school claims his hair does not comply with its dress code. George, who wears his hair in locs twisted on top of his head, is being punished for having it be of a length that would fall below his eyebrows and ear lobes when let down. The suspensions, which started months ago, keep coming with George just being suspended yet again after returning from a month-long off-site disciplinary program. He has spent 80% of his junior year outside of the classroom.
This is all happening despite the fact that Texas has enacted the CROWN Act. The school is testing the act’s limits, and George’s family is pushing back. He is keeping his hair as is because of its personal and cultural significance, and his family has filed a formal complaint with the Texas Education Agency, along with a federal civil rights lawsuit against the governor, attorney general, and school district for failing to enforce the CROWN Act.
With a CROWN act in place, one would expect to have their natural hairstyle protected under the law. So, how is this happening to George and can it happen to you? Let’s break it down.
What Does the CROWN Act Protect?
There is no federal version of the CROWN Act, which stands for Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act. Although one has been proposed, it has yet to be passed. Each state is left to enact its own version. In general, a CROWN Act is a law that prohibits race discrimination based on hair textures and hairstyles.
The New Jersey version of the act, for example, amends the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to clarify that you can’t discriminate on the basis of “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles.” The bill defines the term protective hairstyles to include, but not be limited to, “such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.” This added definition helps to prevent any confusion or ambiguity over the scope of the act.
A question about the definition of protective hairstyles, however, is where the issue lies in Texas. While the law states that protective hairstyle includes braids, locks and twists - similar to the New Jersey law - it does not mention anything about hair length. It is on the issue of length that the school keeps suspending George. Courts will have to decide if length falls within the spirit of the law and/or if the school can regulate it.
So what does this Texas test mean for other states with the same definition? Will employers and schools be able to dictate hair length? We will have to wait and see the outcome of the complaints filed by the George family, but it may behoove states to consider revising their act’s language to include the term “length” within the definition of protected hairstyle.
States with CROWN Act Laws
At this point in time, the following 24 states have enacted versions of the CROWN Act: Alaska; Arizona; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; Illinois; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Nebraska; Nevada; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; Oregon; Tennessee; Texas; Virginia; and Washington.
The Importance of the CROWN Act
Biases against hairstyles or natural hair types associated with race exist, and can impact education and employment. A Duke University study found significant discrimination in the hiring process based on hairstyle. Participants in the study acted as recruiters conducting a job screening. They had to give their thoughts on which candidate looked the most employable. The two groups were shown photos of the same woman; one group saw her with natural hair and the other other with straight hair. The group that saw the woman with straight hair rated her as more professional, polished, refined, and respectable, and more strongly recommended her for an interview.
Other disturbing data was found by Dove, which conducted The CROWN Research Study. It surveyed 2,000 women in professional office settings and found:
● 80% of Black women agree they have to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office
● Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair
● Black women’s hair is 3.4 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional
It will be interesting to see if the outcome of the George case will result in states with CROWN Acts amending their definition of protective hairstyle, as well as whether it will cause other states to enact similar legislation in an effort to combat discrimation.
If you have questions or concerns regarding any issues related to employment or education discrimination, please contact us at 973.707.3322 or LFarber@LFarberLaw.com.
The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.