A lawsuit in the Federal District Court of Northern District of California alleging caste discrimination on the part of Cisco and two of its Indian origin employees (California Department of Fair Employment vs Cisco and others) has been filed by Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
In November 2016, a Dalit employee at the IT company (referred to as John Doe) was caste discriminated against by two of his fellow Indian origin colleagues, Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella.
DFEH filed the law suit and said,
“Cisco engaged in unlawful employment practices on the bases of religion, ancestry, national origin/ethnicity, and race/color against Complainant John Doe, and after Doe opposed such unlawful practices, Cisco retaliated against him. Cisco also failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent such unlawful practices in its workplace, as required under FEHA.”
Definition of ‘dalit’ is questioned in the caste discrimination suit:
“At the bottom of the Indian hierarchy is the Dalit, typically the darkest complexion caste, who were traditionally subject to “untouchability” practices which segregated them by social custom and legal mandate. Although de jure segregation ended in India, lower caste persons like Dalits continue to face de facto segregation and discrimination in all spheres. Not only do Dalits endure the most severe inequality and unfair treatment in both the public and private sectors, they are often targets of hate violence and torture. Of India’s approximately 1.3 billion people, about 200 million are Dalits.”
Serious allegations of caste discrimination against Cisco have been made saying the company failed to even acknowledge the unlawful nature of the conduct, and failed to take steps to prevent such discrimination, harassment, and retaliation from continuing in its workplace.
John Doe’s supervisors and co-workers (defendants) Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella, are from India’s highest castes. In September 2015, after the complainant was hired by Cisco, he was placed in a team headed by Iyer, as per the complaint of caste discrimination.
In October 2016, two of Doe’s colleagues told him that Iyer informed them that Doe was from the Scheduled Caste community and enrolled in the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) through affirmative action.
As both attended IIT at the same time, Iyer was aware of Doe’s caste. The next month, Doe confronted Iyer about disclosing his caste to Cisco’s employees, at which point Iyer denied making the comment of caste discrimination. A caste discrimination complaint against Iyer by Doe through Cisco’s human resources (HR) and Employee Relations.
Shortly thereafter in this caste discrimination case , Iyer told Doe he was taking away his role as lead on two technologies. Iyer then promoted two of Doe’s colleagues to head engineering roles, one of whom was Kompella. As a result of these changes, Doe’s role was reduced to that of a system architect as an independent contributor, and he was isolated from all his colleagues.
Doe then filed a written complaint on the actions of Iyer and also stated that he made discriminatory comments to a colleague and about a job applicant because of his religion (Muslim).
However, closing the investigation into the allegations in February 2017, the Employee Relations team at Cisco failed to act on the complaint. The complaint stated that the Cisco Employee Relations staff also indicated that caste discrimination was not unlawful; still no corrective action was recommended against Iyer.
With the company concluding that it could not substantiate any caste-based or related discrimination or retaliation against Doe, another investigation undertaken by an HR official was also closed in August 2017.
The complaint in caste discrimination case stated,
“Because both knew Doe is Dalit, they had certain expectations for him at Cisco. Doe was expected to accept a caste hierarchy within the workplace where Doe held the lowest status within the team and, as a result, received less pay, fewer opportunities, and other inferior terms and conditions of employment because of his religion, ancestry, national origin/ethnicity, and race/color. They also expected him to endure a hostile work environment. When Doe unexpectedly opposed the unlawful practices, contrary to the traditional order between the Dalit and higher castes, Defendants retaliated against him. Worse yet, Cisco failed to even acknowledge the unlawful nature of the conduct, nor did it take any steps necessary to prevent such discrimination, harassment, and retaliation from continuing in its workplace.”
In February 2018, DFEH goes on to claim that, Kompella became the Interim Head of Engineering for Cisco’s team after Iyer stepped down. In his new role, Kompella supervised Doe and continued to discriminate, harass, and retaliate against Doe by, for example, giving him assignments that were impossible to complete under the circumstances.
67% of Dalits were reported as being treated unfairly at their American workplaces because of their caste and related characteristics, a study by Equality Labs showed.
Equality Labs Research 2018 (https://bit.ly/2VxBN7V)
Causes of action
The following COA, among the eight causes of action were alleged in the complaint of caste discrimination :
Cisco discriminated against Doe by subjecting him to disparate terms and conditions of employment based on his religion, ancestry, national origin/ethnicity, and race/color.
As a direct result of these unlawful employment practices and caste discrimination , Doe suffered emotional distress, including, but not limited to, emotional pain, suffering, mental anguish, humiliation, and hopelessness.
As a direct result of these unlawful employment practices, Doe suffered economic injuries including, but not limited to, lost wages and other compensation.
Defendant Cisco’s actions were willful, malicious, fraudulent, and oppressive, and were committed with the wrongful intent to injure Doe and in conscious disregard of his rights.
Prayer has been made that the defendants be injuncted from engaging in discrimination based religion, ancestry, national origin/ethnicity, and race/color and that they be made to institute equal employment opportunities that eradicate the effects of their past and present unlawful employment practices.
Further, it has been added in caste discrimination case the prayer that:
Order Defendants to make Doe whole, by providing appropriate backpay with prejudgment interest, in amounts to be determined at trial, and other injunctive relief necessary to eradicate the effects of Defendants’ unlawful employment practices.
Order Defendants to make Doe whole, by providing compensation for past and future pecuniary losses resulting from the unlawful employment practices described herein, in amounts to be determined at trial.
Order Defendants to make Doe whole, by providing compensation for past and future nonpecuniary losses resulting from the unlawful practices complained of herein, including losses such as emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, and humiliation, in amounts to be determined at trial.
Amounts to be determined at trial in order to pay Doe punitive damages for their malicious and/or reckless conduct described herein.
State of California has demanded a Jury Trial
In the United States, Cisco is among the top five H-1B visa users. Outside of San Jose, Cisco’s second largest workforce is in India. Cisco has 75,900 employees worldwide and Over 70 per cent of these H1-B workers come from India.
Read the Law Suit