Almost one year to the day after New Jersey high school wrestler Andrew Johnson made national news when he cut his dreadlocks in order to participate in a wrestling match, the state of New Jersey has passed a law making it illegal to discriminate based on the style or texture of someone’s hair.
There has long been a federal law protecting those who wear their hair in an afro style, but that law does not extend to protect other natural hairstyles such as braids, twists, dreadlocks, or similar styles typically worn by black individuals, and the State of New Jersey did not incorporate that language into their laws against discrimination. While New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has recently introduced a bill extending the federal protections to those other textures and hairstyles, New Jersey House Bill S3945 was introduced just months after a referee forced Johnson to choose between forfeiting his match and cutting off his dreadlocks. The bill was introduced in June of 2018 in response to the incident and it took little time for both of New Jersey’s legislative bodies to approve it overwhelmingly.
When Governor Phil Murphy signed the bill into law on Thursday, he issued a statement saying, “No one should be made to feel uncomfortable or be discriminated against because of their natural hair. I am proud to sign this law in order to help ensure that all New Jersey residents can go to work, school, or participate in athletic events with dignity.”
One of the bill’s sponsors was state Senator Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, who responded to the bill’s passage by saying, “It is unacceptable that someone could be dismissed from school or denied employment because they wear their exactly how it grows, but that has been the reality for many black and brown individuals. Today, here in New Jersey, we’ve changed that.” The new law will add an amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) to add the words “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type and protective hairstyles.” Similar laws have been proposed in Tennessee, Michigan and Illinois, and already exist in both California and New York.
If you have been discriminated against on the basis of your hairstyle or any other area offered protection under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, we can help. Contact us today to set up a time to discuss your situation and learn about the options available to you.