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Alleged Religious Discrimination by N.J.-based Company Reignites Islamophobia Debate in IT Industry

Alleged Religious Discrimination by N.J.-based Company Reignites Islamophobia Debate in IT Industry

An outsourcing company headquartered in Plainsboro, New Jersey has come under scrutiny for its alleged discriminatory recruitment behavior. According to complaints received by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an email sent by Nityo Infotech Pvt. Ltd., to its recruiters advised them to not submit Muslim candidates for the position. 

Allegations of religious discrimination against Nityo Infotech became widely known after a screenshot of the email went viral in the tech circles. The screenshot of the email, sent from a email domain, which is available on the CAIR website, states: “Please do not submit Muslim candidates for below position.” The email was sent by one of the team leads at the company.

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.

Selaedin Maksut, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of CAIR told American Kahani that the company first claimed that the Muslim omission in the email was a mistake. Immediately thereafter, Ajay Gupta, director of sales and operations claimed that the company email server was hacked, Maksut said. “These are two contradictory messages from the company,” he said, adding that the company is carrying out its internal investigation on the matter, the results of which are expected soon.

In the meanwhile, CAIR is in communication with the New Jersey governor’s office as well as to the attorney general. “Our local and federal governments must take this global crisis seriously if we as the United States wish to mend the wounds America and its impacted communities, particularly people of color and religious minorities, sustained in the past four years,” Maksut said. CAIR-NJ has also called for a diversity, equity and inclusion audit from the company, he said. “Once we get the results of Nityo Infotech’s investigation, we will begin ours,” he said. 

The company informed Maksut that it has suspended the person who sent the email, but no proof of suspension has yet been sent to Maksut. “There’s talks of launching a potential complaint,” he said. “We are continuing to collect evidence, and we are also looking into other companies to cut their contract with Nityo.”

Emails and calls to Nityo Infotech’s Plainsboro office by American Kahani were not returned.

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), in a press release, said the incident is “one example of blatant expression of bigotry against Muslims, driven by Hindu nationalist narratives and Islamophobic stereotypes.” 

According to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs. Religious discrimination can also involve treating someone differently because that person is married to (or associated with) an individual of a particular religion.The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

The Nityo Infotech incidence is not an isolated case, Maksut notes. “Although anti-Muslim sentiment in the IT industry is not new, this incidence has once again thrown light on the issue,” he said. “We have received countless emails, phone calls and text messages of people sharing their experiences [of religious discrimination] in the IT industry,” he said. “We are looking at a national level to challenge the IT industry to address deep-rooted anti Muslim sentiments.” CAIR networks across the country, including chapters in Chicago, San Diego and Boston, are conducting similar investigations, he said. 

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos, has condemned the Niyto Infotech incidence. In a press release, it says the incident is “one example of blatant expression of bigotry against Muslims, driven by Hindu nationalist narratives and Islamophobic stereotypes.” 

In the press release, the IAMC cites a case of Mohammad Tarique Anwar (name changed) who had applied for a job in the IT sector in California a few months ago using his first name Mohammad. “He did not get any call for an interview,” the IAMC said. A month later when he applied at the same firm using a “not so Muslim sounding” name of Tariqu, “he got the call and subsequently the job.” 

IAMC says “Tarique’s case was one of several instances of subtle and not so subtle religious discrimination prevailing in the U.S. tech industry that has come to light through an informal survey carried out by the Indian American Muslim Council.” 

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IAMC President Ahsan Khan says the Nityo Infotech case “should serve as a wake up call for everyone interested in keeping our workplaces free from religious bigotry and hate. The fact that the firm felt emboldened to openly ask the recruiter to exclude Muslim candidates shows the extent to which Islamophobia has now been normalized.”

A 2019 poll conducted by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding which measures the National Islamophobia Index in the country, revealed that negative public opinion of Muslims has increased in the U.S. in the past year. 

This July, the state of California sued Cisco Systems, a multinational technology conglomerate headquartered in California’s Silicon Valley, for allegedly letting an employee face caste-based discrimination. The case highlighted how caste prejudice and discrimination is rife within the IT industry. 

The lawsuit, filed on June 30, by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, alleged that the unidentified engineer, belonging to the Dalit community, was alienated from his team members and was not allowed to progress in the team. The lawsuit stated that his Indian-American managers, Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella, who are described as high-caste Brahmins, harassed the engineer because of their sense of superiority rooted in the Hindu caste system. 

Although the U.S. employment law does not specifically bar caste-based discrimination, but California‘s Department of Fair Employment and Housing contended in the lawsuit that the Hindu faith’s lingering caste system is based on protected classes such as religion.

However, this October, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing voluntarily dropped the federal lawsuit, saying it will re-file the complaint in a state court. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the government department has said it will not comment further at the moment because the case was in “open litigation.”

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The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
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