- A Black job applicant's lawsuit alleging hair discrimination is the first to evoke the CROWN Act
- The CROWN Act first became California law in 2019 and has since been passed in 13 other states.
- The case has highlighted hair discrimination that disproportionately affects Black people.
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A Black job applicant's lawsuit alleging hair discrimination is the first legal complaint to evoke the CROWN Act, a California law that took effect in 2020 and bars such discrimination in schools and workplaces.
Jeffrey Thornton filed a lawsuit against Encore Group, LLC., an event production company, last Monday.
In the filing, Thornton says he worked as an employee at the company in Florida before he was furloughed during the pandemic.
After learning that the company was inviting furloughed workers to apply for roles on its West Coast-based team, Thornton applied for a technical supervisor position.
He alleges that he was advised by a hiring manager that he was "fully qualified for the job, and that if he wanted it, he would have to conform to certain dress and appearance policies," including cutting his dreadlocks so that his hair was off his ears, eyes, and shoulders.
As per the complaint, Thornton was not allowed to simply tie his hair back.
"In order to take the job, Mr Thornton would have to materially alter his hairstyle, and thus his appearance, cultural identity and racial heritage," the complaint says.
His refusal to do so led him to lose the job and forced him to incur substantial financial losses, according to the complaint.
"I wouldn't be able to come to terms with sacrificing my disciplinary journey and what it symbolises," Thornton said when explaining why cutting his hair was a deal breaker at a press conference last week.
The company denies claims and says it was a 'miscommunication'
Encore attributed Thorton's claims to a "miscommunication" in a statement to Insider and said they have extended an offer of employment to Thornton.
"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," the statement read. "We are continuously looking to learn and improve, and we are reviewing our grooming policies to avoid potential miscommunications in the future."
Whether Thornton takes the position is yet to be determined, but his case has brought greater attention to the hair discrimination that disproportionately affects Black people and has led to increased calls for national passage of the CROWN Act.
According to a study from DOVE, which is one of the co-founders of the CROWN coalition that advocates for passage of the legislation, Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home because of their hair and report receiving formal grooming policies at higher rates than white women.
"The impact of hair discrimination cannot be overstated," according to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Educational Fund, Inc., which has taken up numerous cases of hair discrimination in recent years. "These policies that criminalise natural hair have been used to justify the removal of Black children from classrooms, and adults from their employment."
The CROWN Act, which stands for "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair," first became California law in 2019.
Since then, 13 other states have passed CROWN Act legislation, including Washington, Nevada, Colorado, New York, Connecticut, Virginia, Mayland, Delaware, New Jersey, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
The legislation aims to protect people against hair discrimination, particularly those who wear natural hair styles with cultural and historical significance.
"#TheCROWNAct is necessary in order to protect hairstyles such as braids, locs, twists and bantu knots in the workplace," read a tweet from an account from the CROWN Act campaign, in reference to Thornton's story.
Neither Thornton or his lawyer responded to Insider's requests for comment before publication.