This is part of a series of articles by Wright Lindsey Jennings’ labor and employment team examining key trends for employers and the workplace in 2024, authored by attorney Troy Price. The series was featured in Arkansas Business.
Most employers know well that it can be a violation of state and federal law to discriminate against a current or potential employee based on race or national origin.
Many of those same employers may not know that, in Arkansas, such prohibited discrimination may result from attitudes, appearance rules, or dress codes that disfavor, ban or regulate “natural, protective, or cultural” hairstyles. That is one consequence of Act 514 of 2023, also known as the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act (CROWN Act), that went into effect Aug. 1, 2023.
Among other things, the CROWN Act amended the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993 to prohibit those with nine or more employees from discriminating based on specified hairstyles, including “afros, dreadlocks, twists, locs, braids, cornrow braids, Bantu knots, curls and hair styled to protect hair texture or for cultural significance.” The Act also prohibits discrimination based on these hairstyles by school districts and state-supported institutions of higher education.
More than 20 states and numerous municipalities have enacted CROWN legislation, particularly impacting black women who might otherwise feel pressured to straighten their hair with chemicals, heat, or other products or procedures to advance their workplace opportunities. While the CROWN Act in Arkansas does not distinguish between discrimination against males or females, similar legislation gained momentum across the country after publication of studies by researchers at Michigan State University and Duke University showing black women wearing their natural hair were deemed less professional than black women with straightened hair, or white women with straight or curly hair.
Arkansas employers with nine or more employees should inform their hiring managers of the CROWN Act, and review their appearance policies to assure compliance with this state law.
Troy Price is a partner at Wright Lindsey Jennings in Little Rock, an experienced appellate lawyer, and a fellow of the prestigious American Academy of Appellate Lawyers. He also focuses on employee benefits litigation under the federal ERISA statute.