The office says she was was featured in a 2021 township video celebrating the diversity of its police officers called "Sheroes of the Maplewood Police Department." (Getty Images)
A Black police officer in Maplewood who was disciplined for her hairstyle has sued her boss and the township, accusing them of violating a 2019 state law that prohibits race discrimination based on hair texture and natural Black hairstyles like braids, locks, and twists.
Officer Chian Weekes-Rivera, a 10-year veteran of the force, wore Bantu knots — a traditional African hairstyle — to work on Aug. 20, according to a lawsuit filed last week in state Superior Court in Essex County.
Eleven days later, she received an internal affairs complaint notifying her that she violated the department’s on-duty dress code, and her sergeants were disciplined for “failure to supervise” for refusing to order Weekes-Rivera to change her hairstyle, according to the lawsuit.
The discipline came even though Weekes-Rivera was featured in a 2021 township video celebrating the diversity of its police officers called “Sheroes of the Maplewood Police Department,” the lawsuit says.
The complaint names the township and police Capt. Peter Kuenzel as defendants. Kuenzel, police Chief Albert Sally, Mayor Dean Dafis, and Weekes-Rivera’s attorney, John D. Coyle, did not respond to requests for comment.
Weekes-Rivera wants a judge to order the township and Kuenzel to comply with the anti-discrimination law and produce copies of policies on officers’ hairstyles and complaints about her hair.
The lawsuit comes four years after Gov. Phil Murphy signed the CROWN Act, which is short for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act.
That law updated the state’s Law Against Discrimination to include “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles” as protected under the prohibition on race discrimination.
Weekes-Rivera also sued the township last year over its vaccine mandate. She asked for a religious exemption, got denied and placed on leave, and was later “marched out of the police station” even after she got vaccinated, according to a July ruling that sided with her and four other officers with religious objections.
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