Cisco’s caste-based lawsuit dismissed, but the fight continues, DFEH spokesperson



The widely covered caste-based discrimination case against Silicon Valley-based tech giant Cisco did not go well as planned by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

However, DFEH said they won’t give up. The news circulated by law360 on October 16 that California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing dropped its suit accusing Cisco Systems of failing to act against unlawful job discrimination against one of its employees.

Fahizah Alim, spokesperson California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) told indica News, “We’re proceeding in state court and have refiled the case in Santa Clara County. Because of the back up in the courts, we do not have the case number yet.”

She said, “We cannot specifically answer the question of why the change because it invades attorney-client privilege. We always stated claims under state law in addition to federal law. Our attorneys do not comment on cases in open litigation.”

When indica News reached out to Cisco spokeswoman, Robyn Blum on case being dropped, she said, “Cisco does not tolerate discrimination of any kind and we thoroughly investigate any internal complaint of discrimination. This is exactly what happened in this matter.”

“Given our principles, if we had found any discrimination or retaliation, we would have remediated it, regardless of the fact that there is no legal basis in the US for a claim of caste discrimination. We always welcome hearing from our employees about their experiences and how to strengthen our foundation of an inclusive and conscious culture, “ Blum said.

Filed on June 30, early this year the case between DFEH and Cisco Systems, Inc. in Northern District of California was one of the rare cases filed based on Indian caste, which many Indian origin people working in the US themselves were surprised that caste still exists and plays a dominant role among highly educated Indians.

The lawsuit alleges that the victim (named as John Doe in the lawsuit) was an IIT Engineer and he was harassed because he was from a lower Indian caste than them.

The lawsuit alleged that two upper-caste Brahmins, Sundara Iyer and Raman Kompella, of harassing Doe, in their capacity as managers and “outing him as a Dalit to colleagues”. Cisco was sued for allegedly denying the worker, who immigrated to the US from India, raises and professional opportunities as well as making him “endure a hostile work environment”.

The manager, who has been named as Sundar Iyer retaliated, but the company then determined caste discrimination was not illegal, said the lawsuit. The lawsuit accuses another former Cisco manager, Ramana Kompella, of harassment and internally enforcing the caste hierarchy.

Cisco’s San Jose headquarters campus, employees are predominantly South Asian workforce and according to the lawsuit, it alleged Cisco failed to even acknowledge the unlawful nature of the conduct against the manager, nor did it take any steps necessary to prevent such discrimination, harassment, and retaliation from continuing in its workplace.

A 2018 survey of South Asians in the U.S. found that 67% of Dalits reported being treated unfairly at their American workplaces.

The lawsuit says as a direct result of these unlawful employment practices, Doe suffered emotional distress including, but not limited to, emotional pain, suffering, mental anguish, humiliation, and hopelessness.