SB 179 and SB 310: California expands recognition of gender identity, and process for name and gender changes by prison inmates

SB 179 recognizes that gender identification is “fundamentally personal, and the state should endeavor to provide options on state issued identification documents that recognize a person’s accurate gender identification.”

As of September 1, 2018, California will officially recognize three gender classifications: male, female, and nonbinary.  The nonbinary classification includes individuals that identify as “agender, genderqueer, gender fluid, Two Spirit, bigender, pangender, gender nonconforming, or gender variant.”

The new law also amends procedures for changing one’s name.  The new procedures streamline the name-change process for those that wish their name to conform to their chosen gender identity.  The law further requires the provision of a new birth certificate, upon request “reflecting the change of gender . . . .”

Changes of officially recognized gender classifications may expand the rights of workers to pursue claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”).  Workers who suffer discrimination because of a gender identity outside the former binary classifications may have a cause of action where an employer discriminates against the worker in terms of employment because of the worker’s gender, gender identity, or gender expression.  (See California Government Code section 12940(a).)

In other words, agender, genderqueer, gender fluid, Two Spirit, bigender, pangender people, and others, may have increased protections against gender-based workplace discrimination.  Because the law does not come into effect until September 1, 2018, just how the courts will interpret the new gender classifications as they relate to workers’ rights, remains to be seen.

SB 310 will also take effect in September 2018.  Existing law prohibits an inmate in a prison or county jail from petitioning for a name change or a change in gender classification without special approval by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation authorities.

SB 310 will allow inmates to petition for a name or gender change while incarcerated by the state or county.  The approval of Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials is no longer necessary.

The new law places some limitations on streamlining name and gender changes for current and former inmates required to register as sex offenders under Penal Code section 290.  Registered sex offenders will not be granted petitions for a name change “unless the court determines that it is in the best interest of justice to grant the petition and that doing so will not adversely affect the public safety.”

Please contact your legal counsel with further questions regarding these laws.  We will continue to provide updates with regard to their impacts in the workplace.

By Alexander Nazarov | November 6, 2017

Legal Developments