Cisco Systems has been accused of discriminating against an Indian-American employee on the basis of caste, and a lawsuit has been filed against the company in the US state of California.
The lawsuit does not name the complainant, but identifies the employee as a Dalit who worked at Cisco’s San Jose headquarters, Reuters reported.
Majority of the staff at Cisco’s San Jose office are South Asian.
It states he has been a principal engineer at Cisco's San Jose headquarters since October 2015 and that he was raised at the bottom of India's caste hierarchy as a Dalit, once called "untouchables."
That caste hierarchy was enforced in the workplace, according to the lawsuit, which accuses the two former engineering managers of harassment.
Former Cisco engineering managers Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella have been named as defendants in the lawsuit, which was filed by the California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
The employee had reported Iyer to the human resources department in November 2016 for telling colleagues that he is a Dalit, and Cisco ruled that caste discrimination is not illegal, Reuters reported.
At Cisco, the unnamed employee reported his manager to human resources in November 2016 for outing his caste to colleagues. The manager allegedly retaliated, but Cisco determined caste discrimination was not illegal and issues continued through 2018, the lawsuit states.
Cisco reassigned the employee's duties and isolated him from colleagues, rejected a raise and opportunities that would have led to one and denied him two promotions, according to the lawsuit.
Though caste discrimination is not specifically illegal in the US, the lawsuit states that the Hindu faith’s caste system is based on protected classes such as religion.
Like other large Silicon Valley employers, Cisco's workforce includes thousands of Indian immigrants, most of whom were brought up as 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.
Some employers have begun taking action. Massachusetts-based Brandeis University last year added caste to its nondiscrimination policy in what is believed to be a landmark move in U.S. higher education.
“Cisco is committed to an inclusive workplace for all. We have robust processes to report and investigate concerns raised by employees which were followed in this case dating back to 2016, and have determined we were fully in compliance with all laws as well as our own policies. Cisco will vigorously defend itself against the allegations made in this complaint,” a Cisco spokesperson said as per a report by Hindustan Times.
(With inputs from Reuters)