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NJ bans discrimination based on hairstyle a year after a black student wrestler cut his dreadlocks to compete

High school wrestler forced to cut dreads returns to compete
Posted at 8:08 PM, Dec 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-19 20:08:40-05

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a new law on Thursday making it illegal to discriminate based on hairstyles associated with race, his office said. It's one year to the day that an African American high school wrestler cut off his dreadlocks so he could compete.

The law, known as the "Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act" (or CROWN Act), amends the state's current law against discrimination to include "traits historically associated with race," including hair texture and hairstyles like dreadlocks, braids and twists.

The change is "intended to remove any confusion or ambiguity over the scope" of the law, Murphy's office said.

"Race-based discrimination will not be tolerated in the State of New Jersey," the governor said in a news release. "No one should be made to feel uncomfortable or be discriminated against because of their natural hair," he said. "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."

The legislation was introduced after a New Jersey referee told varsity wrestler Andrew Johnson last year he would have to forfeit a match if his dreadlocks were uncovered. Faced with a forfeit, the Buena Regional High School student athlete had a trainer cut his hair. A video of the incident went viral.

State officials announced in September that the referee would be suspended for two seasons following an investigation into the incident.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom cited Johnson when he signed a similar bill into law in July, saying that the issue came up in schools and offices every day. New York City has passed similar protections on natural hairstyles closely associated with racial, ethnic or cultural identities.

Murphy's news release also quoted US Senator from New Jersey and Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker, who praised the work of state lawmakers and advocates for the law.

"Discrimination against black hair is discrimination against black people," Booker said, "and no one should be denied a job, an education or face discrimination because of their hairstyle."