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On March 4, 2021, Governor Ned Lamont signed legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of ethnic traits historically associated with race. The CROWN Act (Bill No. 6515), also known as the “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” Act, amends the definition of race in the state’s anti-discrimination laws to be “inclusive of ethnic traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”

The CROWN Act is effective upon passage, and makes it an unlawful employment practice to discriminate against employees and applicants on the basis of ethnic traits, such as protective hairstyles. The CROWN Act defines the term “protective hairstyles” as “wigs, headwraps and hairstyles such as individual braids, cornrows, locs, twists, Bantu knots, afros and afro puffs.” While promoted as an act to end discrimination against individuals with hairstyles historically associated with race, the law does not limit the definition of “ethnic traits” to hairstyles. It is possible the law will be interpreted more broadly to include additional ethnic traits.

Similar legislation in various states and cities has gained national attention. California first passed its CROWN Act in 2019, which was followed by New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, Maryland, and over a dozen cities. An additional 23 states (including Connecticut) have introduced similar bills for consideration. Several members of Congress are also pushing to make the CROWN Act a federal law.

Connecticut employers should consider reviewing their employee handbooks, anti-discrimination policies, and dress codes or grooming policies for compliance with the CROWN Act. Employers may also want to provide education and training on the new law for recruiters, managers, and supervisors.

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