The applicant to a Technical Supervisor position for Encore Global, LLC., a national audio/visual company who was denied a position due to his hairstyle, decided to proceed with a lawsuit, figuring to be the first to try the CROWN Act in California court.
Jeffrey Thornton and Employment Attorney Adam Kent announced the legal claim last month in a press conference hosted by Rev.Shane Harris, president of the People's Association of Justice Advocates against Encore Global, invoking the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act. Authored by then-senator Holly Mitchell, the law prohibits the discrimination of traits that are associated with race, including texture and hairstyles such as braids, dreadlocks, and twists in the state of California.
"Professionalism is not about fitting into eurocentric norms. Professionalism is about competency, skill, and respect," Kent said during the press conference. "In essence, he was told that his identity and his culture are what needs to be conformed into the norms in order to succeed in this world."
According to Kent, the complaint was filed on Nov.28 at the San Diego Superior Court alleging violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act against Encore Global, specifically violations of the CROWN Act.
"We all expect to be judged based on our abilities and on our character, but Mr. Thornton is being told in this case that it's different for him," Kent said.
At the height of the pandemic, Thornton was furloughed for about a year by Encore Global in Orlando, FL., where he worked as a Technical Supervisor and was never questioned about his hair. Thornton decided to move to San Diego in July 2021 as he was notified positions would open in the area, and in November, the company interviewed him for the position.
"I felt as if I needed to make a change that reflected the levels of growth that I was experiencing in my personal life and in my career development along with my creative and technological skillset. Like many people in my culture, I decided the best way to demonstrate that growth is through my locks. Essential discipline for which i can track the progression of my other disciplines."
During the interview, Thornton was told he would need to adjust his hairstyle to attain the position despite his qualifications. According to Thornton, Encore Global reached out nearly three times to follow up with Thornton regarding changing his appearance.
"I wouldn't be able to come to terms with sacrificing my disciplinary journey and what it symbolizes. I was told that if I was willing to make that sacrifice, that position would be waiting for me, which it still is, I assume," Thornton said.
Encore said in a statement that Thornton misunderstood the company's grooming policies and is welcome to take the position.
"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," Encore said in an emailed statement.
Encore said officials within the company are "reviewing our grooming policies to avoid potential miscommunications in the future." As of Tuesday, Thornton has turned down the offer from the company.
During the press conference, Kent said his client is asking "to be made whole for the damages he has suffered" while also asking that Encore Global "is never again able to enforce grooming policies that disparately impact Black Americans."
Harris sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state's Legislature immediately following the press conference requesting the enforcement measure of the CROWN Act, otherwise known as Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act.
"If you have a mullet, that's fine," Harris said. "I should be able to have an Afro, and I should be able to feel good about that, and I should be able to have dreadlocks and not have to feel bad about that. You cannot put your standard of being professional in my life."
California's CROWN Act went into effect in 2020 after Senate Bill 188 was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Other states have enacted their own versions of the law.