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Discrimination Based on Hair Styles is Now Illegal Under California Law

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Image result for patrick r kitchinThe Public Shearing of Andrew Johnson’s Dreadlocks

In December 2018, a video showed a white high school trainer in New Jersey cutting dreadlocks from 16-year old African American wrestler, Andrew Johnson. The lead referee had instructed him, ‘Cut your hair in the next 90 seconds, or you will be banned from today’s competition.’

The image is shocking: a white woman roughly cutting a black teenager’s hair in front of an auditorium filled with parents and children.  Andrew stared straight ahead.  The school initially argued haircut was needed for the safety of the wrestlers in accordance with standard rules about wrestlers’ hair length.

The justification for the act quickly was overpowered by its dreadful significance.  In response to the public outcry, the state attorney general’s office suspended the referee for two years, and ordered educators in all high schools in New Jersey to undergo implicit bias training.

A Conversation Begins

Public reactions to the video ranged from outrage to denial.  According to an April 17, 2019 Washington Post article about Mr. Johnson, residents of his hometown, in New Jersey had mixed reactions too.

Many who attended the match that night, saw the cutting of Andrew’s dreadlocks as an act of racial intolerance.  Others blamed Andrew himself for failing to follow hair length rules applicable to all wrestlers.  Some saw the event as proof that racism in America is endemic.  Others argued it was racist to claim that the cutting of Andrew Johnson’s deadlocks was an act of racial discrimination.

California Leads the Way

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) does not lay out an exhaustive list of acts and attitudes that violate the rights of job seekers and employees.  That is part of its strength.  If gives us the flexibility to decide whether an act or process is discriminatory based on the evidence in specific cases.

Instead of relying on a limited number of examples, FEHA sets out protected categories of people and conditions. One’s race falls into one of the protected categories.  Being disabled places a person into another.  A person cannot be harassed or discriminated against based on their status as a member or one or more of these categories.

Beginning January 1, 2020, policies and practices that target hairstyles associated with race constitute acts of discrimination in both education and employment.  Known as the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair), Senate Bill 188 modifies the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Education Code.  The newly defined additional category states that discrimination based on race now includes “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”

Senate Bill 188 Expands Protections Against Discrimination in Employment and Education

California has some of the most broadly protective employment discrimination laws in the nation.  The CROWN Act adds “Protective hairstyles” as an additionally protected category under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.  SB-188 also amends the California Education Code to prohibit discrimination based on “Protective hairstyles,” which “includes, but is not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.”

In a world where physical appearance continues to be employed as a weapon for denying equal protection under the law to all citizens and residents, the new law makes a powerful statement about race and ethnicity-based discrimination.  “Hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for Black individuals,” the Legislature declares.

The Legislature’s Preamble to SB 188

The Legislative preamble to SB-188 makes a powerful statement about hair in the context of the history of race discrimination and toxic ethnocentrism in America.

To combat bigoted ideas that have permeated “societal understanding of professional,” the preamble states, “Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group…, The Legislature recognizes that continuing to enforce a Eurocentric image of professionalism through purportedly race-neutral grooming policies that disparately impact Black individuals and exclude them from some workplaces is in direct opposition to equity and opportunity for all.”

Watershed Moments

The public shearing of Andrew Johnson’s dreadlocks in 2018 is another watershed moment in the history of race relations in America.  The public haircut of a black child surrounded by white adults generated discussions across our country about who we are and how we think about, and treat, others.

Bigotry is almost always accompanied by insults denigrating others based on their physical characteristics, whether it be skin or hair.  The legislative preamble to SB 188 should be required reading for every HR manager, supervisor and educator in California.

Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:Patrick R. Kitchin is the founder of Kitchin Legal APC, a San Francisco, California employment law firm. He has represented thousands of employees in both individual and class action cases involving violations of California and federal labor laws since founding his firm in 1999. Patrick also represents employers requiring guidance in California employment law. Patrick is a graduate of The University of Michigan Law School and rated AV-Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell, its highest ranking for legal knowledge, skill, experience and ethics.


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A Trailblazing New Law in Illinois Will Dramatically Expand Temp Workers’ Rights

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Beginning next summer, a sweeping new law will take effect in Illinois, ending many of the routine injustices suffered by the state’s nearly 850,000 temp employees who often work under miserable conditions.

The Responsible Job Creation Act, or HB690, represents the most ambitious attempt to date by any state to regulate the growing temporary staffing industry. Introduced in January, the bill gained bipartisan support in the Illinois General Assembly and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in late September. The law will take effect June 1, 2018.

The legislation, which addresses job insecurity, hiring discrimination and workplace safety, was championed by the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative (CWC) and Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ), as well as the Illinois AFL-CIO and Raise the Floor Alliance, a coalition of eight Chicago worker centers.

The law will require staffing agencies to make an effort to place temp workers into permanent positions as they become available—a step forward in the fight to end “perma-temping.” To address racial bias in hiring, the new law requires temporary staffing agencies record and report the race and gender of all job applicants to the Illinois Department of Labor. And in an effort to reduce the workplace injuries that temps frequently suffer, agencies will also now have to notify workers about the kinds of equipment, training and protective clothing required to perform a job.

State Rep. Carol Ammons—a Democrat from Champaign-Urbana who supported Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign—was the bill’s chief sponsor. Activists credit her with getting the bill to the governor’s desk.

“Legislators don’t always get down into the deep part of the process, but this was so personal to me,” Ammons tells In These Times. After her son told her about the problems he had experienced as a temp worker in another state, she began looking into the temp industry in Illinois and became convinced that it needed reform.

“HB690 won support from both Democrats and Republicans, who heard the voices of workers who came to Springfield to educate us about the temp industry,” state Sen. Iris Martinez, a Democrat who joined Ammons in backing the bill, said at a press conference last Thursday. “When you have two strong women of color leading the charge on this kind of bill, things get done.”

Bakari Whitfield, a WWJ activist, says the most important aspect of HB690 for him is “the opportunity to get a built-in permanent job, as opposed to a seasonal temp job.” Whitfield has been a temp worker for over ten years in a warehouses outside of Joliet. “It’s just a revolving door,” he says. “They hire you and fire you around the same time every year. Every six months you have to go get another job,”

The transparency provisions come in response to a pattern of systemic racial and gender discrimination in the temp industry. In Illinois, whistleblowers have alleged that African-American temp workers are routinely passed over for jobs in favor of Latinos, whom employers consider easier to exploit on the job.

A previous Illinois bill that would have required temp agencies to report the demographics of job applicants, SB47, was killed in 2015 after temp industry lobbyists spread misinformation and fostered divisions between Latino and black lawmakers, as reported by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

According to Ammons, lobbyists similarly tried to sink HB690 this year. A community organizer before entering politics, Ammons says she relied on conversations and personal relationships with fellow lawmakers to counter the industry lobby and advance the bill.

Months before even introducing the bill, “I started talking to legislators about what was happening in the industry and what was happening to the workers,” Ammons explains. “We started really pushing our legislators in a way that maybe they had not experienced from another legislator, asking them to take the moral high ground on the issue. They realized we weren’t going to let it go and decided they had to work with us.”

The Responsible Job Creation Act also requires staffing agencies to bear the costs of background checks, drug tests and credit reports for job applicants—costs workers currently have to incur themselves.

CWC activist Freddy Amador, who worked as a temp for five years at a factory in Waukegan, told In These Times that he’s had to pay up to $95 in such fees for a single job application. “You pay and sometimes you’re not even going to get the job,” he says.

“Working folks should never have to be penalized with these fees just to apply for a job,” Ammons said at Thursday’s press conference. “The temp agencies are a business, so they are to bear the costs associated with doing business, not the workers.”

HB690 also requires staffing agencies to provide workers with transportation back from a job site if they were given a ride. Under the current system, temp workers are frequently left stranded with no way to get home.

Ammons has promised to track how the law is being enforced, including whether temp agencies are actually placing temps into permanent positions, but admits there’s still more work to be done. In particular, Ammons hopes to pass a trailer bill that would end the practice of staffing agencies paying temp workers through credit or debit cards, which carry fees.

“That’s double taxation on the worker. They should be able to get a paper check,” Ammons says.

“We now have to ensure there is enforcement [of HB690], not that we create a law and forget about it,” Martinez insists. She has encouraged the temp worker leaders with CWC and WWJ to hold legislators accountable. “It’s up to you to let us know that the law is being acted out responsibly, and if not, don’t be afraid of coming back to us and making sure that we do the right thing.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on October 4, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.


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