By: Greg Vanden-Eykel

On July 26, 2022, Governor Baker signed the CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) into law making Massachusetts the 18th state to enact this type of law.

The CROWN Act adds “natural or protective hairstyle” to the list of protected classes in several existing statutes that impact private and public sector employers, as well as landlords, lenders, real estate brokers, and places of public accommodation across the Commonwealth.  Under the law, a “natural or protective hairstyle” is defined as hair texture, hair type and hairstyles, which shall include, but not be limited to, natural and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, twists, Bantu knots, and other formations.

Specifically, the CROWN Act amends the following statutes, among others:

  • M.G.L. c. 71, § 37O – requiring schools to consider “natural or protective hairstyle” as part of their bullying prevention and intervention plans;
  • M.G.L. c. 71, § 89 – requiring charter schools to include “natural or protective hairstyle” in their statements of equal education opportunity
  • M.G.L. c. 76, § 5 – prohibiting public schools from excluding or discriminating against a student during the admission process because of student’s “natural or protective hairstyle”
  • M.G.L. c. 151B, §§ 3, 4 – prohibiting discrimination because of “natural or protective hairstyle” by employers, landlords, lessors, lenders, and real estate brokers
  • M.G.L. c. 272, § 92A – prohibiting discrimination because of “natural or protective hairstyle” by places of public accommodation

Further, the CROWN Act expressly prohibits all Massachusetts school districts, school committees, public schools, and non-sectarian schools from adopting and/or implementing any policy or code that impairs or prohibits “natural or protective hairstyles.”

Both the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination have been directed to develop guidance for schools and employers concerning the implementation of this new law.  However, the law does not include a deadline by which the agencies must issue this guidance.

The definition of “natural or protective hairstyle” leaves room for a broad interpretation that may be clarified further in future guidance.  Until then, those individuals and entities to whom the CROWN Act now applies should familiarize themselves with the statute and review and revise existing employment policies, handbooks, and related procedures to ensure compliance with these new requirements.  Further, employers and schools should train staff with respect to these new obligations and the related expectations.  Pro-actively reviewing and revising policies and training staff may mitigate future risks.

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Employers and schools with questions should consult with a K&S employment attorney.

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