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The CROWN Act: Does it affect dentistry?

Sept. 23, 2021
A recent incident in a Cincinnati, Ohio, dental practice brought attention to the CROWN Act, an anti-discrimination law involving hairstyles.

The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” Act, are laws prohibiting race-based discrimination in the workplace and schools. These statutes protect a person’s hairstyle, including braids, locs, twists, coils, cornrows, Afros, weaves, and Bantu knots. Generally, model legislation adds hairstyle and texture to the statutory definition of race.

During the last two years, the CROWN Act has become state law in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington. Similar legislation is pending before several other states, municipalities, and Congress. Momentum for universal passing of the CROWN Act is rapidly gaining.

“Practice owners should review their dress and grooming policies to ensure they are not discriminatory of natural hairstyles and revise the policies if needed,” said Michelle Corbo, employment practices analyst at California Dental Association Practice Support. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not have published guidelines specifically about hair. However, employers can still maintain policies that require employees to secure their hair for safety and hygienic reasons in clinical settings.

The Cincinnati case

One of many municipalities that has passed the anti-discrimination CROWN Act is the City of Cincinnati, Ohio. A former employee of Aspen Dental Management Inc. (AMDI) claimed she was discriminated against because of her hairstyle. Delyshia Childers says she had worked at Aspen Dental for three months and was hired as a floater, meaning she worked at different offices in the metro Cincinnati area for ADMI whenever they needed help. Childers was allegedly taken aside by an owner-doctor who told her that her hairstyle was unprofessional. Childers says she asked the doctor, who is also Black, to clarify what he meant.

“I asked, ‘What makes my hair unprofessional?’ He said, ‘It needs to be pulled back and pulled up.’ I asked, ‘Do you want me to straighten my hair?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ I told him I was not going to straighten my hair. Then he was like, ‘No, no, no just pull it up.’ I thought, okay maybe he’s telling me to get my hair out of my face. But then he went on to say, ‘I think it would be better coming from me because we look the same,” said Childers. One can only speculate upon whose directives the doctor was acting.

Dr. Martin Kireru, an owner of Aspen Dental clinics in Hamilton, Ohio, and the Western Hills section of Cincinnati, Ohio, is the one who had the conversation with Childers. He issued a statement.

“I am truly sorry for my comment, which was my own misinterpretation of a dress code that applies to clinical staff for patient safety, occupational, and hazard standards. I want to personally apologize to Delyshia, who is well respected by me, her peers, and our patients. All hair is accepted, it has no impact on the job, and I am saddened that this caused distress for someone who is a top performing employee. We are thankful that she voiced her concerns, and we encourage all of our team members to voice their concerns.”

Childers says she left the office in tears, and that Dr. Kireru followed her out with a paper that spelled out the dress code. The paper allegedly did not mention anything about hair for her job description as a receptionist. Childers says at her initial job interview, she wore the exact same curly hairstyle. Therefore, she disputes any claim of a misunderstanding.

“There are other people who work at the office who have straight hair or bangs cut, so why am I being targeted? Asking me to pull my hair up or pull my hair back? That’s when I started to think that this is a bigger issue,” said Childers.

She says she immediately went to her vehicle and contacted the ADMI office manager and ADMI regional manager. She states both supervisors were supportive but pushed her to return to work..

Pay attention

It's important for dental professionals to be aware of this act and any other anti-discriminatory laws and legislation that involves the workplace. Stay informed, and apply the laws correctly in your practice.

Michael W. Davis, DDS, maintains a general dentistry practice in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He chairs his district dental society peer review committee and is involved in state dental association issues. He is also active with consultation and expert witness work for a variety of attorneys. Dr. Davis may be reached at [email protected] or on his website, smilesofsantafe.com.

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