A Black police officer from New Jersey, Chian Weekes-Rivera, has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Maplewood Police Department, alleging reprimand for wearing her hair in a traditional African protective style known as Bantu knots.
Weekes-Rivera claims that on August 20, she faced disciplinary action for her hairstyle, a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, which prohibits discrimination based on race or gender.
The lawsuit, filed in Essex County State Superior Court, names Maplewood Township and police captain Peter Kuenzel, one of Weekes-Rivera’s supervisors, as defendants.
According to the lawsuit, Weekes-Rivera received an Internal Affairs complaint, warning her about violating the dress code. Her sergeants also faced disciplinary action for not reprimanding her, a decision upheld by Internal Affairs.
Kuenzel issued a second notice, accusing Weekes-Rivera of violating dress code rules by wearing her hair in “rollers.” The lawsuit references Andrew Johnson, a Black high school wrestler forced to cut his locs for a competition in 2018, highlighting the discriminatory treatment of Black individuals based on their hairstyles.
Weekes-Rivera, a gay Black woman in a male-dominated environment, expressed feeling additional pressure to be tough and was humiliated by the reprimand. The lawsuit mentions New Jersey’s CROWN Act, making it illegal to discriminate based on hairstyles connected with race, including protective styles.
Weekes-Rivera, who has been on the force since 2012, is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys’ expenses, and compliance with state anti-discrimination laws. She also requests copies of any formal complaints about her hair and department standards on hair styling. Weekes-Rivera has a pending lawsuit against the department for its now-defunct COVID-19 vaccine requirement.
The lawsuit sheds light on the struggles faced by Black individuals in professional settings due to discriminatory dress codes and highlights the hypocrisy within the police department’s treatment of diversity.