A Chinese woman from Henan province successfully sued a company in Hangzhou province for denying her a job based on status as a resident of Henan province.
To put this in American terms, this would be the equivalent of someone from West Virginia or Kentucky winning a case against an employer in New York or California for denying them a job based on them being from West Virginia or Kentucky.
State or regional discrimination claims would not succeed under U.S. law. State and regional discrimination is also less of an issue in the United States than it is in China. A comparison of legal systems between the two countries can help us understand why.
China v. United States Part 1: Just Cause v. At-will
In order to fire an employee in China, an employer generally needs to prove good cause. In the United States an employer can fire an employee at any time for any reason. This is called “employment at-will” and I’ve discussed the topic extensively. In short. American courts are reluctant to intervene in the employee-employer relationship barring some explicit statutory or case law authority giving them power to do so. State citizenship or regional background is not one of those reasons.
Chinese courts aren’t bound by the employment at-will and have more leeway to second guess employment decisions. A Chinese court is free to decide that not hiring someone because of provincial origin is unlawful even without any express legal guidance on the issue. Chinese law also provides discrimination protections for workers in rural areas seeking employment in urban areas.
China v. U.S. Part 2: Hukou v. Article IV
Regional discrimination is a more contentious issue in China because of the hukou system which limits the abilities of Chinese citizens to migrate, contract and own property within China. In contrast, Americans have the right to travel, work and contract anywhere in the United States. This freedom is guaranteed by the so-called privileges and immunities clause of the United States Constitution at Article IV, Clause 1. The privileges and immunities clause also limits the ability of U.S. states to discriminate against the citizens of other states.
So in essence, U.S. law severely limits discrimination based on state origin by governments, but permits private parties to discriminate on that basis in the workplace. In contrast, Chinese law approves of government discrimination based on provincial (state) origin, but is more willing to limit such discrimination between private parties in the workplace.