Arizona Employers Should Note Expanded State and Local Anti-Bias Laws

By Steve Biddle and Ruzanna Mirzoyan © Littler Mendelson July 8, 2021
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Arizona recently expanded provisions of the Arizona Civil Rights Act (ACRA) to cover pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions. Additionally, following a national trend in response to perceived state and federal inaction, cities in Arizona on their own passed new ordinances that expand protected categories and coverage.

ACRA Expansion

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits discrimination of applicants and employees because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, and genetic information (including family medical history) by employers with 15 or more employees.

In 1965, Arizona enacted the ACRA, mirroring Title VII. Presently, ACRA prohibits discrimination because of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age (40+), physical or mental disability, and genetic testing results, in employment and places of public accommodation. Like Title VII, ACRA applies to employers to Arizona employers with 15 or more employees. In cases alleging sexual harassment, however, the coverage threshold is reduced to one employee under ACRA. On Feb. 4, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law HB 2045, expanding discrimination because of sex to include pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions. This addition is expected to take effect on July 19.

Although Arizona employers subject to ACRA are already prohibited from treating pregnant women differently than other temporarily disabled employees under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, this recent expansion allows the state attorney general to investigate charges of pregnancy discrimination regardless of whether the woman can show she was treated differently than other employees with a temporary disability. Employees can still file a charge with the EEOC, but this amendment provides another avenue for investigations and lawsuits for pregnancy discrimination under Arizona law.

City Ordinances

On May 25, Glendale became the ninth city in Arizona—preceded by Phoenix, Tucson, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tempe, Flagstaff, Sedona and Winslow—to pass an ordinance that includes protections focused around LGTBQ+ individuals and families. This ordinance protects LGTBQ+ individuals and families from discrimination in places of public accommodation, employment and housing within the city's limits. In addition to gender identity and sexual orientation, Glendale's new ordinance also prohibits discrimination because of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, religion, sex, gender, veteran status, marital status, genetic information and familial status.

To ensure compliance, Glendale City will impose civil penalties on violators. For a first violation, the city manager will attempt to resolve the issue through mediation, before issuing a fine. For a second or third violation, the city manager has discretion whether to mediate or impose a fine.

Glendale also has expanded the law's coverage, as this ordinance applies to employers with five employees or more, unlike ACRA. Currently, Arizona does not have protections for LGTBQ+ individuals at the state level, and although the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County clarified that Title VII's prohibition against sex discrimination includes employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Title VII does not extend protections based on familial, marital and veteran status.

Recently, the city of Tucson became the tenth city in the U.S. and the only one in Arizona to expand its protected categories by adopting the CROWN Act. The act stands for "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair."

The CROWN Act aims to protect individuals from discrimination based on their hair texture and style including protective styles such as braids, locks, twists and knots in the workplace and public schools. According to one study, African American women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work due to their hair, and 80 percent of African American women felt the need to change their natural hair to fit in at the office.

The Tucson CROWN Act applies to employers with one or more employees.

California, New York and New Jersey were some of the first states to pass a version of the CROWN Act. Although the act failed to pass statewide in Arizona, other states like Nebraska and New Mexico passed the CROWN Act in 2021, while Virginia extended the Virginia Human Rights Act to ban hair discrimination. To date, at least 30 cities have also passed the CROWN Act.

Based on these trends, we recommend that employers look at their current discrimination policies; train managers to understand changes; and continue following developments at the local, state and federal levels.

Steve Biddle is an attorney with Littler Mendelson in Phoenix. Ruzanna Mirzoyan is a student at the Arizona State University College of Law and a 2021 summer associate with Littler Mendelson. 

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