Silicon Valley giant Cisco Systems Inc. was sued by California regulators on the grounds of job discrimination against an Indian American employee. The employee was harassed by two managers because he was from a lower Indian caste than them, as reported by Reuters.
Former Cisco engineering managers Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella also are defendants in the lawsuit, which accuses them of harassment for internally enforcing the caste hierarchy.
The caste system is an Indian system of maintaining the class hierarchy that has been codified in the Indian society through ages. It dictates almost all aspects of society from marriages, economy to the kind of jobs one is supposed to do. While the system is advantageous to people belonging to the upper caste, the caste system has pushed the majority of the population to the margins of society as they are excluded from social and economic mobility.
While there have been many social reformers who have tried to break the caste system, the system of graded inequality has seeped too deep into Indian society and taints all aspects of life in India.
As Indians moved abroad for work and studies, they carried their caste, caste behavior, and caste pride with them. Like other large Silicon Valley employers, Cisco‘s workforce includes thousands of Indian immigrants, most of whom were born Brahmins or other high castes.
The civil rights group Equality Labs in a 2018 report cited in the lawsuit found that 67% of Dalits surveyed felt treated unfairly at their U.S. workplaces.
US employment law does not specifically bar caste-based discrimination, but California‘s Department of Fair Employment and Housing contends in the lawsuit that the Hindu faith’s lingering caste system is based on protected classes such as religion.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Jose, does not name the alleged victim. It states he has been a principal engineer at Cisco‘s San Jose headquarters since October 2015 and that he was born at the bottom of caste hierarchy as a Dalit, once called “untouchables.”
Cisco spokeswoman Robyn Blum said that the company would “vigorously defend itself” against the lawsuit. She further adds- “Cisco is committed to an inclusive workplace for all,” “We were fully in compliance with all laws as well as our own policies.”
The case of caste discrimination goes back to 2016 when the complainant had reported Iyer to Human resources in November 2016 for outing him as a Dalit to colleagues. Iyer allegedly retaliated, but Cisco determined caste discrimination was not illegal and issues continued through 2018, the lawsuit states.
Cisco reassigned and isolated the employee, rejected a raise and opportunities that would have led to one, and denied two promotions, according to the lawsuit.