• Mon. Dec 6th, 2021

Cisco allowed caste-based discrimination against engineer of Indian origin, state of California alleges

ByKelley Wheeler

Jul 2, 2020

California’s fair-employment regulator is suing San Jose technology giant Cisco, alleging it allowed supervisors of upper-caste Indian origin to discriminate against an engineer from the caste formerly known as “untouchable.”

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing noted in its suit that members of the “Dalit” caste, known previously as “untouchables,” continue to face discrimination and segregation in India, and the agency alleged that at Cisco, “higher caste supervisors and co-workers imported the discriminatory system’s practices” into the team where the engineer worked. The engineer is identified anonymously as John Doe in the suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, which accuses Cisco of violating federal civil rights law and state employment laws. The company said in a statement Wednesday that it did not violate any laws.

Doe, as a Dalit, is a minority among people of Indian origin working in the U.S., where only 1.5% of Indian immigrants come from lower castes, the agency said in the suit. “The same is true of the Indian employees in Cisco’s workforce in San Jose,” the agency claimed.

Doe’s team was made up entirely of employees who immigrated to the U.S. as adults from India, all but him from high castes, the suit alleged. “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,” the suit claimed. “They also expected him to endure a hostile work environment.”

A Cisco spokesperson said the company was committed to an inclusive workplace for all employees. “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,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement Wednesday. “Cisco will vigorously defend itself against the allegations made in this complaint.”

Doe has more than two decades of experience as a software developer, and was hired in 2015 to work at Cisco’s San Jose headquarters, according to the suit. His purported problems started about a year later, after he learned from two colleagues that the supervisor who had recruited and hired him had told them Doe was Dalit and had been an affirmative-action student at the Indian Institute of Technology in India, the suit claimed.

Doe, “contrary to the traditional order between the Dalit and higher castes,” confronted the supervisor, who asked who had claimed he had made the comment, the suit alleged. After Doe told him, the supervisor denied making the comment and said Doe’s colleagues were lying, the suit claimed. Doe then contacted Cisco’s HR department to file a complaint against the supervisor, according to the suit. Six days later, the supervisor told Doe he was stripping Doe’s lead role on two projects, the suit alleged. The supervisor also took team members away from another project Doe was working on, the suit claimed. The changes led Doe to be “isolated from all his colleagues,” the suit alleged.

After Doe submitted a written complaint about the alleged discrimination, Cisco employee-relations staff “indicated that caste discrimination was not unlawful,” and found Doe’s complaints to be unsubstantiated, the suit claimed.

The supervisor continued to retaliate against Doe, further isolating him, disparaging him to other workers, and falsely claiming Doe didn’t do his job adequately, the suit alleged.

Doe pushed Cisco to re-open an investigation, and it did, uncovering a spreadsheet showing anticipated yearly raises, bonuses, and restricted stock unit awards the supervisor had promised Doe, but that “never materialized when promised,” the suit claimed. Cisco again found it could not substantiate “any caste-based or related discrimination or retaliation against Doe,” according to the suit.

In 2018 Doe received a new supervisor, who continued the discrimination and retaliation, for example by “giving him assignments that were impossible to complete,” the suit alleged.

The state is seeking unspecified punitive damages, back pay and compensation for Doe, as well as a court order forcing Cisco to “institute and carry out policies, practices, and programs that provide equal employment opportunities for individuals regardless of their religion, ancestry, national origin/ethnicity, and race/color, and that eradicate the effects of their past and present unlawful employment practices.”


Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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