The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has filed 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, legal news website BarandBench.com has reported.
The suit alleges that a Dalit employee at the IT company (referred to as John Doe) was discriminated against by two of his fellow Indian origin colleagues, Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella beginning in November 2016.
The law suit filed by the DFEH says, "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."
The suit goes into the details of who a ‘dalit’ is and says: “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.”
The complaint makes serious allegations against Cisco, 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.
As per the complaint, 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.
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, says the complaint.
Iyer was aware of Doe’s caste because they attended IIT at the same time. The next month, Doe confronted Iyer about disclosing his caste to Cisco's employees, at which point Iyer denied making the comment. Doe then contacted Cisco’s human resources (HR) and Employee Relations to file a discrimination complaint against Iyer.
Shortly thereafter, 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, the Employee Relations team at Cisco failed to act on the complaint, closing the investigation into the allegations in February 2017. The complaint states that the Cisco Employee Relations staff also indicated that caste discrimination was not unlawful. As a result, no corrective action was recommended against Iyer.
Another investigation undertaken by an HR official was also closed in August 2017, with the company concluding that it could not substantiate any caste-based or related discrimination or retaliation against Doe.
The complaint states, "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."
DFEH goes on to claim that in February 2018, 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.
The complaint also refers to a study by Equality Labs, which found that 67% of Dalits were reported as being treated unfairly at their American workplaces because of their caste and related characteristics.