California Passes the First U.S. State-wide Ban on Caste Discrimination
Wednesday, September 13, 2023
Workplace caste discrimination banned

On September 5, 2023, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 403 (“SB-403”), paving the way for a state-wide ban on caste discrimination to be signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. 

SB-403 would amend the definition of “ancestry” under the California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, Fair Employment and Housing Act, and certain provisions of the Education Code to include and define “caste.” According to the introductory language to the bill, rather than adding a new category of protected characteristics, the amendments “are declarative of and clarify existing law.”  

Under SB-403, “ancestry” is defined as including (but is not limited to) “lineal descent, heritage, parentage, caste, or any inherited social status.”  “Caste” is defined more specifically as:

an individual’s perceived position in a system of social stratification on the basis of inherited status. “A system of social stratification on the basis of inherited status” may be characterized by factors that may include, but are not limited to, inability or restricted ability to alter inherited status; socially enforced restrictions on marriage, private and public segregation, and discrimination; and social exclusion on the basis of perceived status.

While India outlawed caste discrimination more than 70 years ago, California joins Seattle, which as we reported earlier this year, became the first U.S. jurisdictions to specifically reference caste in their anti-discrimination laws. In this regard, California is joining a growing group of private institutions and organizations who have sought to recognize caste as a protected category. To date, at least seven institutions of higher education have added caste to their anti-discrimination policies.

Due to the complex history of caste systems, the topic can be a sensitive one and fertile ground for debate. Moreover, because the concept of caste may also be new to many individuals in the United States, employers are advised to stay abreast of trends regarding laws prohibiting caste-based discrimination in the workplace and consult employment counsel to ensure appropriate compliance with the law. Finally, employers should remember that, like many other California employment laws, even if an employer is located outside of California, it may still be subject to California employment laws if there are any employees who live or work in California.

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