California’s Caste Discrimination Lawsuit Blatantly and Repeatedly Violates American Civil Rights

Apr 4, 2023 - 14:09
California’s Caste Discrimination Lawsuit Blatantly and Repeatedly Violates American Civil Rights

(Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect that the baseless and xenophobic caste lawsuit filed by the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) on behalf of a self-identifying Dalit against two Cisco employees (Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella) has been dismissed, leaving the employees vindicated. The case lacked factual support and relied on a debunked report by Equality Labs to bolster its claims of widespread caste discrimination in the tech sector, including at Cisco. The judge's refusal to accept the report as evidence in February 2021 proves that the State of California violated civil rights and attempted to attribute wrongdoing to Hindus and Indian Americans based on their religion or ethnicity.)

Imagine you’re an irreligious American, one amongst an estimated 100 million. Not just that, you’ve been publicly irreligious. You’ve even professed in a writing in a blog. And, for over 20 years. You’ve even revealed that explicitly to a state’s prosecutorial agency. Facts that were known to the agency for at least three years. Yet, the State claims that you’re a Hindu while suing you for alleged workplace discrimination. There goes your First Amendment Constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. 

Imagine you’re a religious American, one amongst an estimated 300 million. You mind your business and go to your local church, mosque, temple, synagogue …. You subscribe to the constitutional separation of church and state. Yet, a state prosecutor interprets your holy books and tells you what they believe is wrong with your religion. There go your rights under the First Amendment establishment clause! Not outraged? Well, here’s more! 

Imagine you’re a 1st generation American immigrant, one amongst an estimated 15 million. Your state accuses you, your supervisors and several co-workers of importing an alleged ancient discriminatory religious practice from India called caste which they define as a part of Hinduism. The state further assigns you an upper or lower caste Hindu religious categorization. You may have never ascribed to caste. But California’s Civil Rights Department (CRD) says, to hell with your Equal Protection and Due Process Rights. It gets worse … Some of you are not even Hindu. Some of you are not even Indian!

Imagine you’re a workplace American supervisor, one amongst millions. The State interviews you for less than 15 minutes. You’re accused of caste harassment. No claims of harassing conduct are pled against you despite 7 years of the Plaintiff’s workplace employment. Your most severe crime … following your boss’s orders to ask the Plaintiff to file weekly status reports. By now you already know that the California Civil Rights Department does not care about your Due Process Civil rights

The recent lawsuit filed by the California Civil Rights Division (CRD) – previously the Department of Fair Employment and Housing's (DFEH) – on behalf of “John Doe”( a self-identifying member of the Dalit caste ), alleging Dalit caste discrimination at Cisco's San Jose headquarters has caused concern among various communities. Article ‘…’  shed light on court documents that show deliberate prosecutorial misconduct that they hid from the judge that all of the leadership positions in this group were first offered to different meritorious Dalit. This "cry wolf" tactic that is harming the cause of genuine discrimination faced by Dalits and in doing so the CRD has created unnecessary alarm and prejudice among Indian and Hindu communities.

While it is important to fight against genuine cases of discrimination, the lawsuit filed on behalf of "John Doe" has been criticized for harming the image of Hindus and causing worry among South Asians and Indian Americans about their career prospects as the Plaintiffs have provided zero evidence to substantiate the claims presented by a self-proclaimed Dalit "Doe" that he failed to secure a head of engineering position from his previous employers on the basis of his caste.

The lawsuit has also raised concerns among Hindu Americans and those perceived to be Hindus, including South Asian Sikhs, Jains, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and others of South Asian origin. These individuals are worried that they will be caught in the net of caste-based insinuations and projected as belonging to a religion of inequity. This concern is especially significant as there already exists broad anti-discriminatory protections available in California and under US law.

In addition to the multiple violations of the First Amendment Freedom of Religion and the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection and Due Process Rights the state does not even give a meaningful definition of caste (let alone upper or lower caste categorizations) making any such argument constitutionally void for vagueness. Most Indians living in North America are not even aware of their “Caste” and do not subscribe to such ideology.

The CRD’s blatant violation of the constitutional rights of American citizens and immigrants is all the more shocking when reviewing public court documents. A previous article … explores the CRD’s targeting of Hindu Americans over nine times in three different Courts, accusing them of physical assault, rapes, as well as making racially divisive claims of alleged upper caste biological superiority, and questioning their over representation and success in Silicon Valley. This case is nothing more than a prejudiced and lethal campaign to insinuate unrest among Indian Americans and present them unfavorably to future employers, particular in the STEM industries, and harming their career prospects. This insinuation of allegations based on several constitutional violations to force a religious caste identity on defendants is bound to set a dangerous precedent that will have far-reaching repercussions in American companies. It is crucial to address discrimination in all forms, but it must be done in a way that is fair, just, and does not harm innocent people.

Richa Gautam Richa Gautam is Founder of Caste Files and Co-Founder and Executive Director at Cares Global. She has been active in the field of advocacy and human rights for over a decade. She is currently engaged in the field of diversity, inclusiveness, and minority rights as well as decolonial practices with Cares Global and she is a Senior Research Associate at Indus University and a Fellow of the Center of Indic Studies at Ahmedabad. Her research focuses on emic and indigenous ethnographic studies and documenting lived experiences of Indian communities like Bheel, Kolis, Suthars, and those deemed as Dalit, Adivasis, or Criminal tribes by the heinous Criminal Tribes Act of 1871. She has spent the last six years dividing her time between field studies, advocacy efforts, and documenting and conducting research. Richa has published numerous articles under her byline for various newspapers internationally and is a speaker and presenter in media and social media.