The specter of caste has reared its head again in Silicon Valley with an employee of HCL America filing a lawsuit alleging he was discriminated against by a boss who bore a grudge against his caste.
This is the second such case in Silicon Valley, with a similar suit filed against Cisco.
According to the lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of Santa Clara in California, the plaintiff, Vikas Kuchu, plaintiff joined HCL America in Sunnyvale, California in August 2018. In October 2018, he was sent to Massachusetts on a project where he met a former boss.
According to the plaintiff, this executive started behaving badly with Kuchu because he is a Kamma Naidu while Kuchu is Kapu Naidu. In the caste hierarchy of the Telugus, Kammas are considered forward caste and Kapus backward.
Kuchu has alleged that he was subjected workplace discrimination and harassment on the basis of his race, ethnicity, color, and national origin.
The lawsuit states that he was good at job and seeing his performance was sent to Massachusetts, but that the former boss, who has been named, bore a grudge against Kapus because of the riots that occurred in the city of Vijayawada in 1988.
This former boss, according to the lawsuit, started to rate Kuchu poorly on weekly or biweekly reviews and was critical about his work with two higher executives. Kuchu, according to the suit, complained about the senior’s behavior both orally and by email but no action was taken.
According to the lawsuit, senior of both Kapu and his boss acknowledged the letter and assured to look into the matter but “absolutely nothing was done” to investigate the complaint.
“The Company never even bothered to review Kuchu’s work product and compare it with other team members who were rated higher by” the senior, the court documents states.
Instead, Kuchu was placed on a “performance improvement plan” and was later he was told he was fired for missing a day that he called in sick.
According to the court document Kuchu’s attorney, prior to the initiation of this lawsuit, filed a complaint against the HCL with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing 5 (DFEH) February 29, 2020. According to the lawsuit, the DFEH issued a “right to sue” letter February 29.
However, the DFEH told indica News they never gave permission to sue.
“DFEH did not investigate this case, so the article [on an Indian finance-news portal] is incorrect when it says that us issuing a Right to Sue indicated that DFEH had determined the merit of the case,” Fahizah Alim, deputy director at the communications department of DFEH, told this correspondent.
Kuchu’s attorney Aanand Mehtani, however, contested that.
“You can pull the lawsuit from the San Jose Superior Court website and you will find a right to sue letter,” Mehtani told indica News. “Permission here is a legally vague term. You cannot file a lawsuit without a right to sue letter but you can bypass the internal DFEH process and still obtain a right to sue letter through their website.”
He added: “The idea that “caste does not exist in the United States” is misguided. All of the celebrated parts of Indian culture have made it here and it would be naive to say that the troublesome parts have been left behind. The fact that employers have come under fire for failure to prevent caste discrimination is a huge testament to how integrated the Indian community has become in the United States.”
The community, he continued, “has a responsibility to make sure that companies are aware of the devastating atrocity that is the caste system in India, and that they are equipped to protect their employees in the same way that they protect against other forms of discrimination.”
He added: “I have no doubt that caste discrimination is going to be taken more seriously in the entire country given the work of the DFEH in the Cisco suit …. Kevin Kish, the director of the DFEH, deserves all the credit for this.”