How white should your hair be to work at an event planning company?
That’s what Jeffrey Thornton, a Black man from San Diego, wants to know. He’s suing his former employer, Encore Global, in what CBS News reports is the first-ever case based on the CROWN Act, a statute meant to protect people with natural hairstyles from workplace discrimination.
Thornton, CBS News reports, has dreads that he says were never an issue at work before he moved to San Diego from Florida to ride out the pandemic. But that’s when his trouble started—Thornton alleges that an Encore manager told him he needed to cut his hair to get a new job as a technical supervisor even though he had already worked for the same company in Florida.
According to the CBS story, Encore issued a statement denying the charge and saying it was a “miscommunication.” They say they’ve offered him a job if he wants it.
Whether you believe that or not, if Thornton’s case goes to court without a settlement, it would be the first opportunity to see if the CROWN Act can be used to hold an employer accountable for discrimination based on natural hair.
From CBS News:
While there have been lawsuits centered on hair discrimination before that, the Thornton case specifically invokes the CROWN Act, experts noted.
The CROWN Act bans companies from discriminating against employees or job applicants based on natural hairstyles, including afros, Bantu knots, braids and cornrows. California became the first state to ban discrimination against natural hair in workplaces. A dozen more states, including New Jersey, New York and Virginia, now have similar legislation. The law draws from decades of Black employees sharing tales of being denied employment or shunned at work for wearing natural hairstyles.
Some cities are passing their own versions of the law, and in some corners of corporate America, anti-hair-discrimination is its own marketing campaign. Sen. Cory Booker even proposed the legislation at the federal level in 2019 during his presidential campaign, but like his run for the White House, it didn’t go anywhere.