July 1: The US state of California filed a lawsuit against network gear maker Cisco Systems Inc Tuesday, accusing the company of “discrimination, harassment, and retaliation” against an Indian-American employee and allowing him to be harassed by two managers on the basis of his caste.

The lawsuit was filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing in a federal court in San Jose. According to its statement released to the media, “the Complainant was expected to accept a caste hierarchy within the workplace where he held the lowest status within a team of higher-caste colleagues, receiving less pay, fewer opportunities, and other inferior terms and conditions of employment because of his religion, ancestry, national origin/ethnicity, and race/color”, The Print reported.

Though US employment law does not specifically bar caste-based discrimination, the state, in its suit, asserts that “the Hindu faith’s lingering caste system is based on protected classes such as religion”. The lawsuit has therefore been filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin”.

The lawsuit does not name the victim, but says he has been a principal engineer at Cisco’s San Jose headquarters since October 2015 and is a Dalit.

It states that the employee reported former Cisco engineering manager Sundar Iyer in November 2016 for “outing him as a Dalit to colleagues”. Iyer reportedly retaliated, but the company then determined caste discrimination was not illegal, and issues continued through 2018, said the lawsuit.

The lawsuit names another former Cisco manager, Ramana Kompella, who has also been accused of harassment and internally enforcing the caste hierarchy.

Asserting that the company would “vigorously defend itself”, spokesperson Robyn Blum said, “Cisco is committed to an inclusive workplace for all. We were fully in compliance with all laws as well as our own policies.”

According to a 2018 report by civil rights group Equality Labs, 67 per cent of Dalits felt unfairly treated at their US workplaces, the lawsuit mentioned.

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