California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill (“AB”) 1084, requiring retail department stores in California to maintain a gender-neutral section to display toys and certain childcare items beginning January 1, 2024. The new law applies to retail department stores with 500 or more employees within California that are physically located in California; it expressly excludes out-of-state stores.
Existing law provides protections against discrimination by business establishments in California. AB-1084 requires retail department stores that offer toys or childcare items, i.e. products designed or intended to facilitate sleep, relaxation, feeding, or to help with sucking or teething, to maintain a gender neutral section for a “reasonable selection” of those items. The new law does not define “reasonable selection,” seemingly leaving that determination up to the retailer. Nor does the new law expressly prohibit retailers from continuing to display items by gender in a separate section, so long as a separate gender-neutral section or area is maintained.
The legislation appears designed to eliminate differences in similar products by displaying them closer to one another. The bill’s author, Assemblyman Evan Low, explained that AB-1084 is aimed to “stop stigmatizing what’s acceptable for certain genders and just let kids be kids,” and to “encourage more businesses across California and the U.S. to avoid reinforcing harmful and outdated stereotypes.”
The new law provides that the California Attorney General or a district attorney or civil attorney may bring a civil action against retailers that fail to comply. Violators face civil penalties of up to $250 for the first violation and $500 for subsequent violations.
To avoid a potential lawsuit and the possibility of penalties, large retail department stores that sell toys and childcare items in California stores, are encouraged to assess their toy and childcare displays and evaluate potential changes in the next few months before the new law takes effect.