Redress for fired state, county, and city employees before 1988

Even before the passage of the Civil Liberties Act in 1988, West Coast redress activists lobbied state and local governments for official apologies and compensation for their wartime treatment of Japanese Americans. Two states—California and Washington—issued payouts to those state workers of Japanese ancestry who were fired on racial grounds in 1942.



Beginning in January 1942, the California state government took steps to dismiss Japanese American state workers. On January 6, 1942, State Assemblyman John Harold Swan introduced a resolution calling for an investigation of the loyalty of Japanese American state employees. On January 17, the California State Assembly followed Swan's suggestion and called upon the State Personnel Board (SPB) to begin investigating any employee "who is not loyal to the United States" and establish rules for the firing of state employees deemed "disloyal." Ten days later, on January 27, the State Personnel Board indicated it would dismiss any employees of Japanese ancestry until "an investigation of loyalty and citizenship status had been made." [1] Attorney General Earl Warren initially objected to the SPB's proposal, stating such an act would be unconstitutional. Despite Warren's remarks, the State Personnel Board began distributing ten-page questionnaires on February 18, 1942.

On February 27, the California State Board of Equalization became the first agency to act, by dismissing its thirteen Japanese American employees. Soon thereafter, other agencies began to fire their Japanese American staff, in some cases doing so even before reviewing the previously submitted loyalty questionnaires. A month later, on April 2, 1942, the SPB passed a resolution requesting the dismissal of all state employees of Japanese ancestry. [2] State agencies fired between 400 and 500 state employees, the majority of whom were clerks and employees of the Department of Motor Vehicle. Soon thereafter, several cities began to fire their office employees of Japanese ancestry. State agencies initially listed the causes of such dismissals as "failure of good behavior, fraud in securing appointment, incompetency, inefficiency, and acts incompatible with and inimical to the public service and violation of the provisions of the State Civil Service Act." [3] Following the forced removal of Japanese Americans to temporary army detention centers , state agencies continued to fire employees of Japanese ancestry on the grounds that their incarceration prevented them from performing their duties. On April 13, the State Personnel Board issued letters of termination to any remaining Japanese American state employees, stating that the employees perpetrated "fraud in securing employment," and charged all with being citizens of Japan that "violently opposed" the U.S. government. [4]

Initial Lawsuits

Several Japanese Americans appealed their firings to the California government during their incarceration. In November 1943, the California State Personnel Board announced it would hold hearings for the estimated 400 Japanese Americans fired from their jobs. In response, National Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) president Saburo Kido urged former employees to obtain legal counsel for the hearings, with an initial group of 82 hiring civil rights lawyers James C. Purcell and William E. Ferriter. [5] On December 29, 1943, the SPB voted to postpone the hearings until the end of the war. By this time, the 82 plaintiffs filed a suit against their dismissal and claims for back pay. One of the plaintiffs, Mitsuye Endo , at the same time was entrenched in her own legal case, also represented by Purcell, against the government's exclusion order of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. A former employee of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Endo had initially wished to bring a lawsuit against her dismissal, and soon her case became a challenge of her detention. The Supreme Court's eventual ruling, Ex Parte Endo (1944), led to the lifting of exclusion and allowed Japanese Americans to return to the West Coast.

The return of Japanese Americans to the West Coast put new pressure on the State Personnel Board. On March 23, 1946, the Pacific Citizen announced that the SPB was expected to withdraw all dismissal orders sent to Japanese Americans in 1942. [6] Five months later, in the period August 28 to 30, 1946, the SPB held hearings on the cases of 88 of the previously dismissed Japanese American employees. The SPB reinstated the fired 88 employees and returned most of their back pay, though with "certain deductions" taken from their original salaries. Between August and December 1946, dozens of other employees attended hearings scheduled by the SPB to receive their jobs back and back pay, with some receiving $4,500 back from their original salaries. The final hearings, held in January 1947, ended with the reinstatement of roughly 150 of the initial 400 employees. [7]

Redress Movement

Beginning in 1978, Japanese American activists led by Priscilla Ouchida, the niece of one of the fired state employees, launched a new movement to provide financial compensation to all former Japanese American state employees fired in 1942. Ouchida worked with Assemblymen Floyd Mori and Eugene Itogawa to document the story of the fired civil servants. The three intended to file a class-action wrongful termination lawsuit, and collected documents from the original employees to build their case. Following Mori's loss of his Assembly seat in 1980, Ouchida approached the newly-elected Assemblyman Patrick Johnston to ask his support for a bill to provide redress to the former employees. With political support from the JACL and the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR) and pressure from the larger Redress movement unfolding across the country, Johnston agreed to introduce a redress bill. Attorney James C. Purcell , who represented Mitsuye Endo before the Supreme Court in 1944, provided Johnston with information to help with drafting the bill.

On February 19, 1982—forty years after Executive Order 9066 —Johnston introduced Assembly Bill 2710 in the California State Assembly. The bill stipulated the state would award $5,000 to all surviving Japanese American state employees fired in 1942. After passing the Assembly on June 7th, the State Senate swiftly approved the bill on August 12. On August 17, 1982, Governor Jerry Brown signed Bill 2710 into law. [8]

Although the state government enacted redress, the process of issuing payments to the surviving government employees proved protracted and difficult. On October 1, 1982, Assemblyman Johnston announced that the government was still looking for eligible claimants. On December 3, the California state government announced that claims would be paid out to former employees over a four-year period. The government also stated that former employees needed to file the claims themselves, and set a final deadline of May 15, 1983 for all claims. [9]

Although Johnston did not include an apology clause in the original bill, the California Legislature later issued an apology to the fired state employees in 2013. In 2020, the California State Assembly, led by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, issued an apology to all Japanese Americans for the state's role in the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. [10]

In addition to state redress, several cities passed redress legislation. On December 17, 1982, Quentin L. Kopp, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, introduced an ordinance to provide redress to Japanese American employees of the city and county of San Francisco who lost their jobs due to forced removal. The ordinance provided payment for lost wages of up to $1,250 a year for four years. Mayor Dianne Feinstein signed the redress bill for San Francisco workers on January 24, 1983. [11] In Sacramento, the County Board of Supervisors agreed to the creation of a fund for Japanese Americans employees dismissed in 1942. The measure was introduced on April 26, 1983, and swiftly received the Board’s approval. [12] The board set aside $35,000 for claimants. In Alameda, activist Chizu Iiyama and the NCRR lobbied the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to pass a redress bill for former county employees. The bill passed, and the Board awarded payments of $5,000 to seven former employees on February 19, 1984. A similar bill was passed by the City of Los Angeles in 1984, and included an apology to the former employees. [13]



As with California, the Washington state and the Seattle city governments fired their Japanese American employees amidst the rise of anti-Japanese hysteria in 1942. As Louis Fiset notes in his article on the redress movement in Washington, 72 Japanese American state employees, most of them clerks working for the University of Washington and Seattle school district, were fired by the state government. [14] In February 1942, several white Seattle mothers of Gatewood Elementary School students, led by Esther Sekor, filed complaints with the Seattle School Board, demanding the dismissal of 27 Japanese American employees "for the security of our children." On February 22, 1942, Sekor organized a demonstration in front of Gatewood Elementary School, and presented a petition with 250 signatures to the Seattle School District.

At a meeting with Assistant Superintendent Samuel E. Fleming, the 27 Nisei employees were told to either resign or face dismissal. Fleming also met with Japanese American leader and newspaper editor James Sakamoto , and asked Sakamoto to convince the 27 employees to resign in order to save face. Wanting to demonstrate the loyalty of the community, Sakamoto ghostwrote a letter of resignation and presented it to the 27 Nisei employees. Sakamoto told the employees that, by resigning, they would prove their loyalty and help contribute to the war effort. On February 27, facing insurmountable pressure from their employer and Sakamoto, the employees formally submitted the letter of resignation. Sekor later applauded their resignations, stating "I think that's very white of those girls... they have our appreciation and thanks." [15]

The "Gatewood incident" sparked a chain of events that led to more dismissals. On February 24, the Washington superintendent of lighting, E.R. Hoffman, asked the Seattle Civil Service Commission for permission to dismiss his four Nisei employees. Although the commission initially rebuffed Hoffman's request, it eventually granted Hoffman permission after the army's announcement of forced removal in March 1942. [16] Soon thereafter, the Washington Tax Commission fired two Nisei employees, adding to 38 employees who resigned from various state agencies. The University of Washington also eliminated 23 Nisei employees from their payroll, including sociology Professor Shotaro Frank Miyamoto . [17]


After the passage of redress legislation by the state of California, activists led by JACL representative Cherry Kinoshita began to work with lobbyists, several state legislative aides, and the State Department of Employees to locate potential redress candidates. After identifying 38 Nisei former state employees, Kinoshita and her team began drafting legislation for redress modeled on the California bill. Following deliberation in both the Washington House and Senate and sponsorship by representatives Gary Locke and Art Wang, the bill passed the House on April 28, 1983, and the Senate on May 5. On May 13th, Governor John Spellman signed the bill into law. Like the California bill, the Washington bill provided payments of $5,000 to Japanese American state employees who were either fired or forced to resign due to the incarceration. [18]

In addition to the state redress movement, several cities in Washington distributed their own redress payments to county and city employees. On February 7, 1986, Gary Locke introduced a bill in the Washington state legislature that would allow municipalities to grant redress to fired Japanese American employees. On April 11, 1986, Governor Booth Gardner signed Locke's bill, HB 1415. The bill also provided for the Seattle School District to pay $5,000 to the 27 Japanese American clerks who resigned in 1942. Although the Seattle School Board passed an initial resolution in May 1984, the redress payments were held in escrow until the passage of HB 1415. [19]


The passage of redress by the states of California and Washington proved instrumental to the national redress movement. In Achieving the Impossible Dream , Mitchell Maki, et al. wrote that "the California and Washington redress bills both provided valuable experience that would enhance and facilitate the redress work to be done on the federal level." By providing experience for lobbying groups like the JACL, NCRR, and NCJAR , and by setting a precedent for future legislation, the redress movements of California and Washington established a framework for the creation and passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

Authored by Jonathan van Harmelen , University of California, Santa Cruz

For More Information

Fiset, Louis. "Redress for Nisei Public Employees in Washington State after World War II." Pacific Northwest Quarterly (Winter 1996/1997): 21–30.

Lyon, Cherstin M. Prisons and Patriots Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012.

Maki, Mitchell T., Harry H.L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold. Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress. Forewords Robert T. Matsui and Roger Daniels. Urbana: Univeristy of Illinois Press, 1999.

Ouchida, Elissa Kikuye. "Nisei Employees vs. California State Personnel Board: A Journal of Ex parte Mitsuye Endo, 1942–1947." Pan-Japan 7.1–2 (Spring/Fall 2011): 1–55.

Shimabukuro, Robert Sadamu. Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001.


  1. Morton Grodzins, Americans Betrayed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949), 125.
  2. Grodzins, Americans Betrayed, 125.
  3. Grodzins, Americans Betrayed , 126.
  4. Cherstin M. Lyon, Prisons and Patriots Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012), 54.
  5. The Pacific Citizen , July 27, 1946, 3.
  6. The Pacific Citizen , Mar. 23, 1946, 2.
  7. The Pacific Citizen , Jan. 25, 1947, 1.
  8. Mitchell Maki, Harry H.L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold, Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress (Urbana: Univeristy of Illinois Press, 1999), 119.
  9. Maki et al, Achieving the Impossible Dream , 120; Hawai'i Herald , Oct. 1, 1982, 18.
  10. Gustavo Arellano, "California to apologize officially for historical mistreatment of Japanese Americans," Los Angeles Times , Feb. 16, 2020.
  11. Pacific Citizen , Feb. 4, 1983, 1.
  12. Pacific Citizen , May 6, 1983, 1.
  13. "NCRR Wins Over Alameda County Board of Supervisors," Pacific Citizen , Dec. 2, 1983.
  14. Louis Fiset, "Redress for Nisei Public Employees in Washington State after World War II," Pacific Northwest Quarterly 88.1 (Winter, 1996/1997), 22.
  15. Fiset, "Redress for Nisei Public Employees," 23-24.
  16. Fiset, "Redress for Nisei Public Employees," 25.
  17. Fiset, "Redress for Nisei Public Employees," 26.
  18. Fiset, "Redress for Nisei Public Employees," 27.
  19. Fiset, "Redress for Nisei Public Employees in Washington State after World War II," 30. Pacific Citizen, Apr. 11, 1986, 1.

Last updated Feb. 1, 2024, 9:27 p.m..