A federal lawsuit was filed on June 30 by DFEH under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (Title VII), and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), against Cisco Systems, Inc (Cisco) and two managers for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
According to the lawsuit, former Cisco engineering managers Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella discriminated against and harassed the employee (who has not been named) to accept a caste hierarchy within the workplace where he held the lowest status within a team of higher-caste colleagues.
He allegedly received less pay, fewer opportunities, and “other inferior terms and conditions of employment because of his religion, ancestry, national origin/ethnicity, and race/colour.”
This, the lawsuit claims, is not a new phenomenon and that a 2018 survey of South Asians in the US found that 67% of Dalits reported being treated unfairly at their American workplaces.
According to a Reuters report, the Dalit employee reported Sundar Iyer to the HR in November 2016 for “outing him as a Dalit” to other colleagues. The report states that Cisco determined at the time that caste discrimination was not illegal, and issues continued through 2018.
According to the report, when this employee reported the issue, the company reportedly reassigned and isolated the employee, allegedly rejected a raise and opportunities that would have led to one and also denied two promotions.
The employee and the two managers worked at Cisco’s headquarters in San Jose, which according to DFEH, has a dominant South Asian workforce.
Cisco spokeswoman Robyn Blum told Reuters that Cisco followed its process to investigate employee concerns in this case.
She further said that the company would “vigorously defend itself” and that Cisco is committed to an inclusive workplace for all and in compliance with all laws as well as its own policies.
“It is unacceptable for workplace conditions and opportunities to be determined by a hereditary social status determined by birth. Employers must be prepared to prevent, remedy, and deter unlawful conduct against workers because of caste,” DFEH Director Kevin Kish said in a statement.
The DFEH is the state agency charged with enforcing California’s civil rights laws.