Black New Jersey police officer Chian Weekes-Rivera is suing Maplewood Township, the police department, and Maplewood police captain Peter Kuenzel. Weekes-Rivera says she was subjected to “disciplinary action for having Black hair.”
Weekes-Rivera is asserting that her rights under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) were violated.
In 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed the Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (“CROWN”) Act into law, which updated the New Jersey LAD.
According to the lawsuit, the law prohibits “race discrimination [which] includes discrimination on the basis of ‘traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles.’”
“As defined in the bill, the term ‘protective hairstyles’ includes, but is not limited to, ‘such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists,’” the suit continues.
The lawsuit states that the 38-year-old showed up at work on August 20 with her hair styled in Bantu knots, which is when “the hair is sectioned and twisted around its base to form a spiral.” But 11 days later, Weekes-Rivera received a complaint from Internal Affairs accusing her of violating “the department’s on-duty dress code.”
In a separate notice, Captain Kuenzel notified her that she violated the policy because she wore “rollers” in her hair.
“To get that paper, it was cringeworthy,” Weekes-Rivera revealed. “I had to ask him questions to stop myself from crying.”
John Coyle is representing Weekes-Rivera in this legal matter. “When she told me she was getting written up for Bantu knots, I had to Google what that was. And I was, like, of course Maplewood is not going to be dumb enough to put out a reprimand against you for using a historically Black hairstyle. And I was wrong,” said Coyle.
“Maplewood is trying to send a chilling message to the entire department that not only are we going to discriminate against Chian, we are going to hold other people accountable for not discriminating against her,” Coyle stated.
Weekes-Rivera has been a member of the department since 2012. Just last year, she was featured in a “Sheroes of the Maplewood Police Department” promotional video, NBC News reported.
“The best thing, to me, about working in Maplewood is the diversity of our whole community,” Weekes-Rivera says in the video. “Whether it’s the members in leadership in our police department to the members in our community that you meet.”
But Coyle believes this is the epitome of hypocrisy—“They highlight her when they want to highlight her, but when she wants to celebrate her heritage, then they come after her.”
This isn’t the first lawsuit Weekes-Rivera has filed against the township. In 2021, she and other police officers sued “over its vaccine mandate. She won on the basis of religious exemption,” The Village Green reports.
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