Jeffrey Thornton, a Black job applicant in San Diego, has filed the first discrimination lawsuit in California invoking the CROWN Act, a relatively new California law that went into effect in January 2020. CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) prohibits companies and public schools from using grooming policies targeting Black people’s natural hairstyles, including cornrows, dreadlocks, and twists.
In late November 2021, Thornton sued an event production company called Encore Global, which has an office in San Diego, alleging that Encore violated the CROWN Act when they asked him to cut his dreadlocks as a condition of employment. Thornton says Encore told him he would need to cut his dreadlocks to comply with the company’s standards. The lawsuit alleges that Encore required Thornton to cut his hair so that it was off his ears, eyes and shoulders, and that he would not be in compliance by simply tying back his hair.
Since California passed the first CROWN Act in 2019, twelve more states have passed similar legislation. While federal courts generally take the stance that afros are a racial trait protected by anti-discrimination laws, they don’t take the same position toward other natural Black hairstyles. That is why the CROWN Act offers unique and groundbreaking protection for California employees. California state senator Holly Mitchell, who wears locs, originally introduced the CROWN Act after being inspired by a case involving a Black woman in Alabama who lost her job at a call center after refusing to cut her dreadlocks.
Encore has stated since the filing of the lawsuit, “We regret any miscommunication with Mr. Thornton regarding our standard grooming policies — which he appears to fully meet and we have made him an offer of employment.” Thornton seeks an injunction prohibiting Encore from implementing a grooming or personal appearance policy that violates the CROWN Act or is otherwise discriminatory against people of color.
If you believe you have faced racial discrimination at work, contact Teukolsky Law today for a free consultation.
Lauren Teukolsky is the founder and owner of Teukolsky Law, A Professional Corporation.