Silicon Valley has had a tendency of being on the news for its history of workplace discrimination. A recent workplace discrimination lawsuit is once again putting Silicon Valley under the spotlight. However, this lawsuit is not claiming workplace discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. Instead, what has brought media’s attention to this specific case is that for the first time a lawsuit was filed due to caste discrimination.
The caste system is a ancient way in which India organizes people into a social hierarchy. Therefore, some Indian’s are fortunate to be categorized from birth as Brahmins, which are the people who are part of the dominant caste in India. While others were born into the lowest level of the caste system known as Dalits. Despite social progress, many Dalits to this day still experience discrimination and even violence in India, yet, it is not until recently that this discrimination followed Indian tech workers to the United States.
In this lawsuit, filed over the summer, an Indian Dalit engineer known simply as John Doe is claiming that the tech company Cisco Systems discriminated and retaliated against him after his caste as a Dalit was revealed. Specifically, the lawsuit claims that John Doe’s managers, who are both part of the upper caste Brahmins, discriminated against John Doe for being a Dalit by paying him less and by denying him any opportunities to progress further in the company. Moreover, John Does also claims he was retaliated upon after he went to HR to complain about a hostile work environment.
This lawsuit is being filed in Santa Clara County, where Cisco is headquartered in, and it will be the first lawsuit to attempt to prove that caste discrimination is also a violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Thus, if John Doe’s lawsuit succeeds in proving this then it will make history as the first major case to recognize the workplace discrimination Dalits in America’s private sectors are experiencing.
Suraj Yengde, a Dalit scholar at Harvard comments that “A verdict in the Cisco case could transform workplace discrimination law in America by forcing the US companies to makes caste a protected category”
Another Indian tech worker, who is using the name Sam Cornelius to protect his identity, comments about his own experiences of being a Dalit and working for tech companies in Silicon Valley. Cornelius, describes that the discrimination he faced as a boy in India for being a Dalit involved being thrown insults and slurs to not being allowed into people’s home. Therefore, Cornelius says it was a strict contrast and a relief to come to America and realize nobody knew nor cared about the caste system. However, over the years as more and more Indian tech workers began to come to Silicon Valley, Cornelius realized that caste was once again influencing his life in America.
For one thing Cornelius noticed that many Indian tech workers who received high positions were Brahmins and would begin to ask Cornelius questions in order to out him as a Dalit. Cornelius worried for the safety of his job continues to hide his standing as a Dalit. Thus, when Cornelius heard of the recent lawsuit agains Cisco, Cornelius comments that he was relieved to hear that in the near future there could be consequences for discrimination against Dalits in America.
Since this lawsuit was filed, many more complaints regarding caste discrimination have been coming forward from other tech workers in companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and Google.
Cisco itself has released a statement though its spokesperson Robyn Blum stating, “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.”
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