- If successful, the legal action will make history as the first major case to recognize the workplace discrimination against Dalits in America’s private sectors.
Caste bias lawsuit against Cisco filed in California court has been dismissed voluntarily by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and is now refiled in the state court of Santa Clara county court. DFEH had previously filed the case at the District Court of the Northern District of California on behalf of John Doe, a Dalit employee against two upper caste superiors. The agency said it cannot disclose the reason for the change in court as it invades attorney client privilege.
When the lawsuit was initially filed on June 30, it was the first time a state agency sued on grounds of caste putting the caste bias in Silicon Valley in the spotlight. The lawsuit accused two upper-caste Brahmins, Sundara Iyer and Raman Kompella, of harassing Doe, in their capacity as managers. Cisco was sued for allegedly denying the worker, who immigrated to the U.S. from India, raises and professional opportunities as well as making him “endure a hostile work environment.” The lawsuit further alleged that Doe could not get any relief from the company despite filing a complaint as early as 2016. The human resources department could not take any action on grounds of caste discrimination since it was not unlawful in the U.S.
The caste system is an ancient way in which India organizes people into a social hierarchy. Therefore, some Indian’s are fortunate to be categorized from birth as Brahmins, which are the people who are part of the dominant caste in India. While others were born into the lowest level of the caste system known as Dalits. Despite social progress, many Dalits to this day still experience discrimination and even violence in India, yet, it is not until recently that this discrimination followed Indian tech workers to the United States.
This lawsuit is being filed in Santa Clara County, where Cisco is headquartered in, and it will be the first lawsuit to attempt to prove that caste discrimination is also a violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Thus, if John Doe’s lawsuit succeeds in proving this then it will make history as the first major case to recognize the workplace discrimination Dalits in America’s private sectors are experiencing.
Since this lawsuit was filed, many more complaints regarding caste discrimination have been coming forward from other tech workers in companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and Google.
Cisco itself has released a statement though its spokesperson Robyn Blum stating, “Cisco is committed to an inclusive workplace for all. We have robust processes to report and investigate concerns raised by employees which were followed in this case dating back to 2016, and have determined we were fully in compliance with all laws as well as our own policies. Cisco will vigorously defend itself against the allegations made in this complaint.”
The Santa Clara County Human Rights Commission has scheduled a “public forum relating to the caste system,” on Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 6:00pm PT. The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) is urging Hindu Americans to take action and email the SCC Human Rights Commission to express their views on this very complex and sensitive issue.
The HAF has issued the following statement:“Hindu Americans strongly condemn all forms of discrimination, including caste-based discrimination, and firmly believe that there is no place for prejudice and mistreatment of anyone in America’s diverse and pluralistic society. For anyone facing caste discrimination, federal and California state law already protects individuals under the existing categories of national origin, ancestry, and ethnicity, all of which have been interpreted as inclusive of ancestry (lineage), birthplace, culture, ethnicity, or language — the various factors that might be associated with caste. The addition “caste” as a specific protected category, however, would single out and wrongly target only one community based on its members’ race, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, and religion thereby violating their rights to equal protection and due process under both the U.S. Constitution and California law. It would label all people ofIndian descent as members of a suspect class as a matter of policy. It will leave children of Indian descent or origin vulnerable to bullying in schools and all people of Indian descent or origin vulnerable to discrimination in hiring, firing, and growth or subject to hostile work environments by the County or companies based in Santa Clara County. The solution to discrimination should not lead to more discrimination, and the erroneous addition of such a category would do just that.”
For those who are human rights activists, the decision by the State of California to sue tech giant Cisco for allowing caste-based discrimination to occur unchecked was a major breakthrough. It felt like there was finally some sign of responsibility taken by a government to tackle the issues of casteism imported by the South Asian diaspora, and that such behavior would no longer go unnoticed. Most importantly of all, it was widely covered by a number of news outlets and raised awareness of the insidious nature of caste-based discrimination, and the ‘real life’ effects on individuals.
Amy Ghosh is a practicing lawyer in Los Angeles. She migrated to the U.S. in 1987 and has been married to a (retired) rocket scientist for 35 years. She has two adult children. Before becoming an attorney, she was a biochemist and worked for several well-known hospitals and laboratories. Ghosh continues to be very much in touch with her motherland India and her favorite city Calcutta. She has recently produced a Bengali movie “Urojahaj-The Flight” by acclaimed filmmaker Buddhdeb Dasgupta. Ghosh is continually looking for meaningful opportunity to contribute to the society through her legal and social work.