Defendants Iyer, Kompella Denied Due Process in High Profile Cisco Caste-Based Discrimination Case

Apr 4, 2023 - 13:54
Defendants Iyer, Kompella Denied Due Process in High Profile Cisco Caste-Based Discrimination Case

Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella file for sanctions against prosecutorial misconduct

By Richa Gautam

(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.)

In June 2020, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (which has been renamed the California Civil Rights Department or CRD) sued Cisco Systems accusing the company and two of its employees of engaging in unlawful employment practices over a claim by an Indian-origin employee – using the anonymous moniker “John Doe” -- who self-identifies as a Dalit. Doe alleged discriminated on the basis of his Caste by two of his managers, who are also of Indian origin. However, public court records show serious prosecutorial misconduct including deliberate fabrications, tampering with dates, hiding evidence from the judge including that “all three leadership positions in the high-profile project were first offered to (or accepted by) candidates that self-identified as Dalit,” and that “two such offers were made prior to any purported complaints of caste discrimination”. Even the position that Doe alleges that he was not given because he was a Dalit was first offered to a different meritorious Dalit. Allegations by the CRD were made despite barely speaking with the opposing parties.

Specifically, one of the Defendants, Ramana Kompella, was interviewed by the CRD for barely 15 minutes per his court declaration (page 2, line 17), before the CRD filed suit against him, naming him, and shaming him in a press release for alleged caste-based harassment. This is a gross violation of the Defendant’s due process rights.

Due process rights are the fundamental rights that ensure that a person accused of a crime or wrongdoing is given a fair opportunity to defend themselves and present their case before they are sent to a judge and jury. The violation of Kompella’s due process rights is even more alarming given that there are no factual allegations that legally constitute harassment against him. Kompella was only an interim manager to Doe, and that too, for only three months. The CRD further mocks the judicial process. Their most severe harassment allegation against Kompella is that he asked Doe to file weekly status reports per his boss, Tom Edsall’s orders!

In a case of “it gets worse before it gets even more worse,” court records show that Doe himself did not consider being asked to file weekly status reports as harassment and did not file any internal complaint alleging harassment on this matter. It is no surprise that the CRD prosecutors who brought this case were subsequently fired in April 2022. 

These are not the only violations of Kompella’s Due Process Rights. Records show the CRD claims by information and belief that Kompella is from India’s highest caste (defined by the CRD as “a strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy”). Information and belief mean that the CRD never asked Kompella that if he is a practicing Hindu or even identifies with the caste system. Further, Kompella’s Declaration shows that he was unaware of Doe’s caste at the time he allegedly harassed Doe. In the best case these factual assumptions about Kompella show further violations of Kompella’s Due Process Rights, or worse, as shown in the defendant’s motion for sanctions (filed in January, 2023) these were deliberate actions on part of the CRD.

Due process rights are fundamental constitutional rights of all American citizens and are essential to court proceedings to prevent unfair targeting of defendants and from being punished without having a chance to present their case. Kompella was not granted his due process rights. The sham, that is the Cisco Caste-based discrimination lawsuit by the CRD and “John Doe” is now being revealed for what it is. The CRD’s misconduct in this case against defendants of Hindu ancestry, along with their repeated and broader rape and physical assault allegations against Hindu Americans may very well demonstrate the first instance of state sponsored Hinduphobia within the United States.

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.