The US state of California on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Cisco System Inc for alleged caste-based workplace discrimination against an Indian American employee, who was described as a “Dalit” in the filing.
The victim had not been identified in the lawsuit. News agency Reuters, which first reported the case, had named the managers, who were named as the defendants along with Cisco. They both appeared to be Indian Americans, going by their names. They were no longer with the company.
Caste-based discrimination does not appear to be rare in the United States. A 2018 survey cited by the lawsuit said 67% of Dalit employees had reported being treated unfairly at American workplaces, presumably by, though it was not mentioned, their Indian American colleagues. It could not be immediately ascertained if this was the first lawsuit about caste-based workplace discrimination in the United States.
The complainant and his managers had worked at Cisco’s San Jose headquarters, which has a dominant South Asian workforce, said the California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), which filed the lawsuit.
The managers at the facility “harassed, discriminated, and retaliated against an engineer because he is Dalit Indian,” the department said in a statement on the lawsuit.
The complainant was “expected to accept a caste hierarchy within the workplace where he held the lowest status within a team of higher-caste colleagues, receiving less pay, fewer opportunities, and other inferior terms and conditions of employment because of his religion, ancestry, national origin/ethnicity, and race/color,” the statement added.
The case has been filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
“It is unacceptable for workplace conditions and opportunities to be determined by a hereditary social status determined by birth,” said Kevin Kish, DEFH director. “Employers must be prepared to prevent, remedy, and deter unlawful conduct against workers because of caste.”
A Cisco spokesperson said in a statement to Hindustan Times, “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.”