ERA-Sponsored CA Intersectionality Bill Recognizes Amplified Harm of Overlapping Forms of Discrimination in State Law

February 14. 2024

For Immediate Release
Feb 14, 2024

Media Contact
Jess Eagle
[email protected]


The bill is supported by CA Employment Lawyers Association, Equal Rights Advocates, Legal Aid at Work, and Intersectionality Expert Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw

SACRAMENTO —  California Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas introduced a bill on February 14 that would make California the first state in the nation to explicitly recognize the concept of intersectionality in state anti-discrimination laws. The bill is sponsored by Equal Rights Advocates, the California Employment Lawyers Association, and Legal Aid at Work.

SB 1137 would clarify that California laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment on the basis of protected characteristics—such as race, gender, age, disability and sexual orientation—also apply to intersectional identities, where two or more of the characteristics result in a unique form of discrimination. For example, a Black woman could experience workplace discrimination based on her race or her gender, but also on a combination of the two, making her subject to a set of stereotypes and assumptions not shared by Black men or white women.

Intersectionality is a term coined and popularized in 1989 by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, Co-Founder and Executive Director, African American Policy Forum (AAPF), referring to how multiple forms of discrimination operate together, exacerbate each other, and often result in amplified forms of prejudice and harm. Crenshaw’s theory specifically cites U.S. civil rights laws as egregiously overlooking the increased and unique harm caused by intersecting forms of discrimination.

As the law currently operates, courts and factfinders treat intersectional claims inconsistently, showing a need for legal clarification. Workers are often forced to focus their complaint on one aspect of their identity, pigeonholing themselves in a way that does not reflect reality. For example, an employer could claim an Asian woman employee’s complaint is unfounded by pointing to white women coworkers who say they do not experience gender discrimination, and/or Asian men employees who say they do not experience race discrimination.

The bill would help to address the economic realities of pay discrimination that disproportionately harms California women of color and their families. U.S. Census Bureau data show that women working full-time year-round are paid on average 84 cents per dollar paid to men, and that gap grows to 69 cents per dollar for Black women compared to white men, and 59 cents for Latinas. In addition, studies show that the vast majority of women suffering the brunt of sexual harassment in the workplace are women of color, which the bill also addresses.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and some courts (including the 9th Circuit) have already recognized that protected characteristics overlap, and that discrimination and harassment may be directed at more than one aspect of a person’s identity at a time, often exacerbating harm. SB 1137 enshrines these key principles of intersectionality into law in order to provide guidance to California state courts and ensure that plaintiffs’ full experience of harm is recognized.

The following are quotes from the bill author, Professor Crenshaw, and leaders from advocacy organization bill sponsors:

Senator Smallwood-Cuevas:
“Discrimination transcends singular dimensions. SB 1137 makes it clear that discrimination not only happens based on one protected class, such as race, gender or age, but any combination thereof. This bill is common-sense reform that addresses the intersectionality of discrimination cases, providing greater protections for Californians, especially those from our most marginalized communities of color.”

Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, Co-Founder and Executive Director, African American Policy Forum (AAPF):
“I am deeply encouraged that California will become the first state to explicitly acknowledge intersectionality in the state’s anti-discrimination laws. This bill helps to lay the groundwork for California to legally recognize that discrimination based on race, gender and other forms of inequality are often inseparable. With the passage of this bill, workers will be protected against the interaction of various forms of discrimination and California will be one step closer to advancing a more just and equitable society for all.”

Jessica Ramey Stender, Policy Director & Deputy Legal Director at Equal Rights Advocates:
“Workers are often forced to focus their discrimination claims on one site of marginalization, bisecting their experiences in ways that do not reflect their lived experiences. From on-the-ground experience representing women of color, LGBTQI+ workers and others who have faced egregious discrimination and harassment at work, we know the recognition of intersectionality in our state law is necessary to more effectively address discrimination and harassment in the workplace.”

Mariko Yoshihara, Policy Director at California Employment Lawyers Association:
“We are proud to stand with Senator Smalllwood-Cuevas upon the introduction of SB 1137, which will enshrine the framework of intersectionality into state law. Especially in a state as diverse as California, our laws must be explicit and clear in their recognition of workers who experience discrimination and harassment based on the intersection of multiple protected characteristics.”

Sabina Crocette, Senior Staff Attorney at Legal Aid at Work:
“The opportunity afforded by this bill to meaningfully redress legal claims for intersectional discrimination under California law tackles the very real challenges of dual and multi-faceted forms of discrimination that cannot be remedied through a single lens, such as gender, race, or age. Legal Aid at Work (LAAW) wholeheartedly supports this legislation and its role in creating more just and equitable realities for California workers.”


About Equal Rights Advocates: Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) fights for gender justice in workplaces and schools across the country. Since 1974, ERA has been fighting on the front lines of social justice to protect and advance rights and opportunities for women, girls, and people of all gender identities through groundbreaking legal cases and bold legislation that sets the stage for the rest of the nation.

About California Employment Lawyers Association: CELA exists to protect and expand the legal rights and opportunities of all California workers and to strengthen the community of lawyers who represent them.

About Legal Aid At Work – free legal services for workers: LAAW is a nonprofit legal organization that partners with people to help them understand and assert their workplace rights. They also advocate for employment laws and systems that empower low-paid workers and marginalized communities.

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