New Jersey officer's lawsuit claims she was disciplined by police department over her hairstyle

The Crown Act against hair discrimination was adopted in NJ after a referee forced a high school wrestler to cut off his locks.

Toni Yates Image
Thursday, November 16, 2023
Officer says police department disciplined her over hairstyle
Toni Yates has the latest report on a police officer suing the Maplewood Police Department for discrimination.

MAPLEWOOD, New Jersey -- A Black police officer is suing her department in New Jersey, claiming she was wrongly disciplined because of her hairstyle.

Chian Weekes-Rivera has been on the Maplewood Police Department in Essex County for 12 years. She says this past summer, her captain disciplined her for wearing her hair in Bantu knots, a traditional African style.

Weekes-Rivera hired an attorney. Her suit claims her punishment violates a law known as the Crown Act, which protects people from discrimination.

"Calling it rollers and calling it unbecoming for a police officer to wear," Weekes-Rivera's attorney John Coyle told our sister station WABC.

Coyle says the captain even went after the officer's immediate supervisors for not confronting her about her hairstyle.

"When you discipline someone for not discriminating, you are sending a message to the entire department: 'This is the expectation and if you fail to meet this discrimination you're going to suffer consequences,'" Coyle said.

Weekes-Rivera was among several honored Maplewood police officers.

She says she's worn Bantu knots many times and never had an issue, and it never kept her from protecting and serving.

"You automatically feel less than," Weekes-Rivera said. "I don't like to talk about it because it's a lot."

The Crown Act against hair discrimination was adopted in 2019 in New Jersey after a high school wrestler was forced by a referee to cut off his locks in 2018 in order to participate in his match.

N.J. high school wrestler forced to cut locks or forfeit match. Walter Perez reports during Action News at 5 p.m. on December 22, 2018.

"This is what we're doing in 2023? In Maplewood?" Weekes-Rivera said. "This is what we're worried about?"

The township released the following statement saying in part:

"In response to the lawsuit and based on the recently adopted CROWN Act, the township committee directed its police department to immediately review its policies to ensure compliance with the law."

"Officers, we spend more time at work than we do at home with our own families. So to know, to learn, this is how they view you, how they feel about you, I thought our town was different," Weekes-Rivera said.