What insurers need to know about potential claims based on hair discrimination

Lawyer Al Goldberger examines the potential impact on athletics of the CROWN Act, which aims to combat discrimination based on natural hair, and how insurers can prevent and respond to claims.


John Czuba: Welcome to “Best’s Insurance Law Podcast”, the show on important and timely legal issues affecting the insurance industry. I’m John Czuba, editor of Best’s Insurance Professional Resources.

We are pleased to have with us today attorney Al Goldberger. Al is a New Jersey attorney and sports veteran with more than three decades of experience officiating college and high school basketball and baseball, as well as high school football. He refereed college and high school basketball for over 30 years.

He also umpired college baseball for the Eastern College Athletic Conference and worked as a high school football official statewide in New Jersey. Al is the author of “Sports Officiating A Legal Guide”, the recognized authority on the law for arbitrators, arbitrators and those who oversee their services.

Based in the suburb of Fairfield, New Jersey, Al is a member of the bar in New Jersey, New York and Maryland. contractual relationships.

Al is also parliamentary and legal counsel for the International Association of Certified Basketball Officials. He is also a frequent speaker for officials, coaches, sports administrators, attorneys, and others involved in sports, including colleges, universities, and school districts., nationally.

Al is also an Adjunct Instructor in the Sports Management Program at Fairleigh Dickinson University. In addition to sports arbitration A legal guide now in its second edition, he is also co-author of Sport, Physical Activity, and the Law, an academic textbook now in its third edition.

Al Goldberger: Thank you John. It’s good to be with you again.


John: Al, thanks for joining us again today. Today’s discussion will focus on CROWN laws and the impact on sports legislation. Al, for our first question, what are the CROWN laws and how does the legislation affect the sport?


Al: John, as we near the end of 2022, state laws known as the CROWN Acts reflect lawmakers’ beliefs that discrimination based on hairstyle is, in most cases, the equivalent of racial discrimination. The acronym CROWN stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”.

Such laws have been enacted in about 19 states and additional legislation is pending.; and more than two dozen municipalities and counties have enacted similar ordinances and regulations.

The CROWN laws are probably best described as legislative amendments to state civil rights laws that focus primarily on prohibiting racial discrimination based on certain natural or protective hairstyles and adornments when those hairstyles represent traits that are commonly and historically associated with the breed.

These hairstyles usually involve things like tightly curly hair worn in locs, cornrows, twists, braids, bantu knots, afros, or the like. These laws profoundly affect sports in the affected states – as students who, because of their choice of hairstyles, have been denied equal opportunity to play sports are often among those affected by systemic racism.

Members of Congress have recognized discrimination against people whose hairstyles reflect traits historically or commonly associated with race. HR2116 was passed by the House of Representatives in March of this year and awaits Senate action.

In recent years, however, state and local legislation has increased to the point where Crown statutes or related local regulations exist in one form or another in most states.

The effect on youth sports is profound, as a rules Manufacturers of a number of sports have been forced to re-examine what they see as safety restrictions on hair adornments and even headgear so as not to breach the new legislation.

John: Al, what do organizations need to know about laws in particular?

Al: John, in the context of sports, students who are barred from participation because of their hairstyle may very well appear accompanied by mom and dad in front of civil rights agencies and courthouses.

As a result, a number of potential defendants could develop a claims history if care is not taken. For example, Massachusetts’ CROWN law, which has been in effect for about a month, deals directly with sports names and even names. I will quote.

“A school district, school committee, public school, non-sectarian school, Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association or equivalent school organization, or entity or board that provides sports officials, including… umpires and umpires for sports or school sports events., shall not adopt or implement any policy or code, including but not limited to any policy or code relating to a student’s participation in sporting or athletic events, that alters or prohibits a hairstyle historically associated with the breed.

Now, not all CROWN LAWS may be so sport-specific, but for the most part, CROWN LAWS include students in the category of people with racial discrimination redress.

John: Al, do the laws only apply to certain levels of athletic competition? How would claims of violations be characterized, and are these laws linked to civil rights legislation?

Al: As to the laws of the CROWN’ application at different levels of sport: with nearly 30 state and local laws, regulations, and ordinances, it can be argued that most athletic participants fall somewhere in the range of students to employees, both of which fall under civil rights laws, including CROWN laws are one in the affected states.

It’s about civil rights regulation, and most levels would probably find people protected.

For its part, the prevailing view from the federal government’s perspective appears to be that discrimination based on traits historically associated with race, such as the natural or protective headgear that people of African descent commonly adorn, violates the existing federal law, including the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and various other statutes.

Some attorneys argue that federal courts have sometimes misinterpreted existing federal civil rights law by narrowly interpreting the meaning of race or national origin. This type of interpretation, combined with the restorative nature of civil rights laws, generally casts a wide net if history is a teacher. However, with only a few years under our belt, the case law has not yet evolved in this area.

John: Al, are only sports covered?

Al: Absolutely not, John. In fact, on the face of it, the laws being… extensions of civil rights law are often spelled out in sections on workers’/employers’ rights, sometimes with broad definitions of who is covered, and sometimes with cross-references to educational institutions, students, or public institutions .

While racial discrimination, unfortunately, persists as a scourge in the workplace and other cultural venues; and while sports are certainly not the sole purpose of the CROWN laws, the racial discrimination which prevents the student-athlete from participating is one of the primary concerns of the child and the parents concerned.

John: Al, how can organizations prevent losses? What are the hurdles in sport and how can sport insureds maintain a risk-averse balance between safety and rules-based restrictions in sport competition?

Al: John, the answers to this are mostly found in the rules of the game and specifically in the interpretations of those rules, so as not to violate the law of the jurisdiction in which the game is played.

In other words, sponsors of sports competitions and accredited gaming officials must be on the same page to balance the rules that govern the game with the legal requirements in place where the game is played.

As those involved in interscholastic and youth sports have seen in the areas of various accommodations for athletes in the areas of disabilities, medical and religious accommodations, etc., compliance in a sports setting, can be problematic. EPLI claims may well ensue, but as in any other civil rights environment, making the insured aware of the legal requirements is an ongoing challenge.

John: Al, thank you very much for being with us today.

Al: Thank you John. Good to be with you.

John: You just heard from attorney Al Goldberger, who is located in New Jersey, and a special thank you to today’s producer, Frank Vowinkel. Thank you all for joining us for Best’s Insurance Law Podcast.

To subscribe to this audio program, visit our webpage. If you have any suggestions for a future topic regarding an insurance law case or issue, please email us at [email protected]. I am John Czuba, and now this message.

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