On Oct. 7, 2023, SB 403, a historic bill that would have made California the first state to formally ban caste discrimination made it to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. He promptly vetoed it.
Caste discrimination is a form of social inequality based on a person’s social hierarchy as determined by their birth. It’s particularly problematic in South Asian countries, especially India, where caste was built into the social system for centuries, even though it’s now officially banned by overseas governments.
Does that mean discrimination claims on caste are impossible?
The caste equity movement has seen a lot of support in recent years, thanks to widespread attention on the issue in the high-tech industry. Many people of South Asian descent in the industry report facing caste discrimination in their personal and professional lives, despite the fact that they are in the United States where caste has never historically been an issue. In particular, those who are born into the “untouchable” or “dalit” class, which is the lowest, have reported being treated with disdain or outright discrimination by their higher-caste peers.
Gov. Newsom took the position that caste was already covered under other laws that ban discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry and national origin (among other things) – but advocates for the bill say that isn’t enough. Indeed, Seattle was the first city in the nation to formally ban caste discrimination, and Fresno soon followed.
While a formal statute would give caste discrimination claims a little more teeth, the reality is that nobody should be dissuaded from filing a discrimination claim because of this recent turn of events. If you experience caste discrimination, find out more about your legal options by seeking legal guidance, as your situation is likely actionable as another form of discrimination as well.