OAKLAND, California (Reuters) – California regulators have sued Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O) on Tuesday, accusing him of discriminating against an Indian-American employee and allowing him to be harassed by two managers because he was of a lower Indian caste than them.
FILE PHOTO: The Cisco logo is seen at its booth at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 26, 2018. REUTERS / Sergio Perez
United States employment law does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on caste, but the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing contends in the lawsuit that the persistent caste system of the Hindu faith is based on protected classes such as religion. .
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San José, does not name the alleged victim. He claims that he has been a chief engineer at Cisco headquarters in San José since October 2015 and that he was born at the bottom of the caste hierarchy as a Dalit, once called “untouchables.”
Like other large Silicon Valley employers, Cisco’s workforce includes thousands of Indian immigrants, most of whom were born Brahmins or other high castes.
Former Cisco engineering managers Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella are also being sued in the lawsuit, which accuses them of harassment for internally enforcing the caste hierarchy.
Cisco spokeswoman Robyn Blum said the network equipment maker followed its process to investigate employee concerns in this case and that it “would vigorously defend itself” against the lawsuit.
“Cisco is committed to an inclusive workplace for everyone,” he said. “We fully comply with all laws, as well as our own policies.”
Iyer and Kompella did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It was not immediately known whether the two have hired lawyers.
Civil rights group Equality Labs in a 2018 report cited in the lawsuit found that 67% of Dalits surveyed felt unfairly treated at their workplaces in the U.S.
At Cisco, the unidentified employee denounced Iyer to human resources in November 2016 for introducing him as Dalit to his colleagues. Iyer allegedly retaliated, but Cisco determined that caste discrimination was not illegal and the problems continued until 2018, according to the lawsuit.
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.
Hindus traditionally grouped people into four main castes based on descent, and Dalits in India still struggle with access to education and work 65 years after India banned caste-based discrimination.
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