WASHINGTON: Seattle is first to ban caste discrimination
Harassment & Discrimination
Seattle has become the first city in the U.S. to include caste as a legally protected class for unlawful workplace discrimination. The Seattle city council voted on February 22, 2023, to amend the city law to ban caste discrimination in workplaces, housing, and public services. The new ban was signed into law by Seattle’s mayor on February 23, 2023, making it effective as of March 23, 2023. This law will be enforced by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, and individuals alleging caste discrimination in the workplace will also have a right to sue their employers.
“Caste” is defined broadly by the city law as “a system of rigid social stratification characterized by hereditary status, endogamy [the custom of marrying only within a certain group], and social barriers sanctioned by custom, law, or religion.” The legislation passed by the Seattle city council identifies caste as a current basis of workplace discrimination, harassment, bias, and wage theft affecting Seattle’s South Asian population, and makes it an unlawful discriminatory practice for Seattle employers to make employment decisions on the basis of caste or allow different treatment of employees on that basis. This law protects all employees working within the city of Seattle, regardless of the location or size of their employer.
Tips: Employers of Seattle employees should revise their equal employment opportunity and anti-harassment policies to include caste as a protected class. Managers of Seattle employees and leadership teams should also be advised of this new protected status and educated on the comments and behaviors to watch out for that may indicate unlawful discrimination. We’ve updated our Model Policy, Policy Against Harassment, to reflect this change.