- Filed in 2020 by former company engineer, Anita Nariani Schulze, a Hindu Indian woman, the suit alleged that her two managers, one from India and the other from Pakistan, treated her as “a subservient.”
A California state court has ruled that a former Apple Inc. employee can move forward with her claim of being fired unlawfully. According to a Bloomberg report, Apple had filed a claim to dismiss a 2020 lawsuit filed by former company engineer, Anita Nariani Schulze, alleging that her two managers, one from India and the other from Pakistan, treated her as “a subservient.”
In the lawsuit, Schulze described herself as a Hindu Indian woman who traces her ancestry to the Sindh region of what became part of Pakistan. “The fact that the Sindhi Hindu nationality is known for its technical acumen, encouraging men and women alike to pursue technical careers and women to rise above their historically subservient role, exacerbated the Managers’ discriminatory treatment,” says the lawsuit.
In her lawsuit, Schulze says her managers “consistently excluded her from team meetings but included her male counterparts.” When she discovered errors in the team’s work and notified her managers, she alleged that “they would respond in a condescending manner and dismiss her discoveries,” and even blame her exclusively if any team projects involving her were late. They would also micromanage her work by monitoring the speed at which she performed assignments, something that did not happen to male employees. Finally, the lawsuit says that Schulze’s managers told her that “she needed to be more involved in her employment and that the reason she was not more involved was because she had children.”
According to the Bloomberg report, California state court Judge Sunil R. Kulkarni in San Jose wrote that even though Schulze “had resigned her job voluntarily, she meets the legal standard for wrongful termination because she claims she left only after being subjected to a pattern of continuous discrimination.”
This is not the first time that Apple Inc. has faced a setback in Schulze’s discrimination lawsuit.
Earlier in May, the company lost an early round in the case. Bloomberg reported then that Judge Kulkarni, in rejecting Apple’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, said Schulze had adequately supported her legal claims, which in turn were disputed by Apple. The company had argued that her claims weren’t specific enough and were based on stereotypes.
In the lawsuit, Schulze sought putative class and representative claims for violation of the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) and related causes of action, on behalf of other female software engineers at Apple.
However, Kulkarni rejected Schulze’s request “to represent a class of female Apple employees who suffered job discrimination over the last four years. He agreed with Apple that she didn’t show a pattern of discrimination that could be applied to a broader group,” the Bloomberg report said.
Schulze’s lawsuit came on the heels of the Cisco lawsuit. In June 2020, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a federal lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, against Cisco Systems, Inc. (Cisco) and two managers for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. The lawsuit alleged that managers at Cisco’s San Jose headquarters campus, which employs a predominantly South Asian workforce, harassed, discriminated, and retaliated against an engineer because he is Dalit Indian, a population once known as the “untouchables” under India’s centuries-old caste system.
Both the Cisco and the Apple lawsuits opened a window into discrimination in tech companies. It showed how ethnic prejudices from one’s home countries play into the work culture dynamics of Silicon Valley, where people from all regions and ethnic backgrounds work. Over 70 percent of workers in Silicon Valley companies are immigrants, and more than 40 percent are Indian immigrants, and the majority of Indian Americans are Hindu.
In an earlier interview with American Kahani, Dalit American activist and Equality Labs executive director Thenmozhi Soundararajan called the CISCO lawsuit a “landmark” case. “It is the first civil rights case in the United States where a governmental entity is suing an American company for failing to protect caste oppressed employees and their negligence leading to a hostile workplace,” she told this writer. Speaking about discrimination in workplace, she had noted that “tech is not a neutral place when it comes to caste.” She called it a reminder that “the power of dominant caste networks in tech departments has created hostile workplaces and uneven outcomes for Dalits who enter these discriminatory workplaces.”
She had predicted that the Cisco case will have “ramifications, not just in California but also for all American companies who do business with Indian employees, and will impact their practices in their localized offices in India.” She added that the case “is a call for all Indian techies to self-reflect, do better, and be more inclusive as the call for caste equity will not be denied.” Although caste does not operate here as it does in India, Soundararajan believes it still forms a part of Dalit and Bahujan lives. “Caste is so deeply alive in the diaspora and it impacts so many parts of the Indian American experience.”
This May, several civil rights groups sent a memo to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) urging it to take action on caste discrimination and bias based on social status in workplaces and recognize that it is illegal under existing federal laws. The EEOC enforces federal workplace anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits bias based on race, national origin, and other protected statuses.
In a May 10 memo addressed to the U.S. agency, a dozen groups, led by the International Commission on Dalit Rights (ICDR), requested that it “recognize the intertwined nature of caste and race and thereby include a prohibition against ‘caste-based discrimination’ as already covered by Title VII in relevant EEOC non-discriminatory guidelines and other EEOC materials.”
A month before the memo was sent, Alphabet Workers Union demanded that caste be included in the company’s anti-discrimination policy and be integrated into their equity practices. The employees union of the parent company of Google and several subsidiaries put their demands forward in a statement supporting the lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing against Cisco for caste-based discrimination. “This lawsuit marks the first time in U.S. history that any institution is being held accountable for caste-based discrimination,” the union announced in a statement on April 13. “Caste-oppressed workers face many barriers throughout the tech industry, including at Alphabet,” it added.
The EEOC memo gives examples of how caste-based discrimination exists and flourishes in the U.S. It cites a report by Dalit advocacy group Equality Labs which shows that weeks since the Cisco lawsuit was announced, more than 250 Dalits from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Netflix, and dozens of others in Silicon Valley came forward to forward to report discrimination, bullying, ostracization, and even sexual harassment by colleagues who are higher-caste Indians.