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California Legislature Sends Bill Prohibiting Caste Discrimination to the Governor
Wednesday, September 13, 2023

California is one step closer to becoming the first state to enact legislation banning caste-based discrimination. Senate Bill (SB) No. 403 adds caste to the list of characteristics protected by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the California Education Code.

On September 5, 2023, the California Senate approved an amended version of SB 403 and sent it to Governor Newsom for signature. The governor has until October 14, 2023, to sign SB 403 into law. If enacted, it will go into effect on January 1, 2024.

Quick Hits

  • SB 403 would ban discrimination based on an individual’s caste under the FEHA, Unruh Civil Rights Act, and California Education Code.

  • Governor Newsom has until October 14, 2023, to sign SB 403 into law.

Caste Discrimination

SB 403 defines “caste” as “an individual’s perceived position in a system of social stratification on the basis of inherited status.” The bill further explains that caste “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.”

Caste discrimination has not gained wide recognition in the United States. In February 2023, Seattle became the first and so far only jurisdiction to ban discrimination based on caste. If Governor Newsom signs SB 403 into law, California will be the second jurisdiction and only state to ban caste discrimination.

SB 403

According to SB 403’s legislative history, caste discrimination occurs across several industries in various forms, including harassment, bias, wage theft, and even human trafficking. The legislative history singles out caste discrimination as being an issue in the tech industry and notes that some tech companies already include caste as a protected class in their policies.

Additionally, the legislative history explains that caste is inextricably intertwined with existing legal protections in state and federal civil rights laws because discrimination based on one’s caste is effectively discrimination based on the intersection of other protected characteristics, including ancestry, race, color, and national origin.

As a result, SB 403 expands the FEHA’s already-existing definition of “ancestry” to specifically include one’s “caste” and defines caste as explained above. SB 403 also amends the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the Education Code to include the same definitions of ancestry and caste.

Looking Ahead

Given California’s reputation as a leader in expanding employee protections, Governor Newsom may sign SB 403 into law. If the bill goes into effect, California employers may want to consider modifications to their antidiscrimination policies and trainings to ensure they address caste-based discrimination.

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