Is Caste System Discrimination Illegal in California Workplaces?

Recently, California employment law regulators filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against Silicon Valley technology company Cisco, Inc., accusing the multinational firm of failing to intervene in harassment experienced by an Indian-American employee by two of his managers because he’s from a lower Indian caste than they are.Orange County employment discrimination lawyer

The Indian caste system is an ancient one that divide’s the country’s Hindus into four different social hierarchy groups. Privilege is bestowed on the higher castes while prejudice and repression is sanctioned against lower castes. India’s constitution banned caste-based discrimination in 1950, but much like the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, enforcement has been a process.

As our Orange County employment discrimination attorneys can explain, neither Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 nor the California Fair Housing and Employment Act bars discrimination on the basis of one’s caste. However, it does protect against discrimination on the basis of religion. What regulators in the case against Cisco are alleging is that the caste system stems from the Hindu faith, and thus this type of discrimination can be covered against discrimination on the basis of religion.

The court’s position on this is being closely watched by many of the hundreds of thousands of Indian immigrants living and working in California.

Caste Discrimination Complaint Against California Employer

According to Reuters, plaintiff has worked as an engineer at the company for five years. The caste into which he was born were formerly considered “untouchables,” meaning the lowest rung on the hierarchy. However, many of the Indian immigrants who work in Silicon Valley and in other higher-paying positions were born in higher castes – including the two manager defendants in these cases.

Plaintiff alleges another employee “outed” his caste system to his managers, who in turn reportedly treated him with disdain. When he complained to the company, the human resources department reportedly determined caste discrimination was not illegal under California law. The company reportedly reassigned the plaintiff, isolated him, rejected a raise and other opportunities that would have led to one and denied him two different promotions.

Caste Discrimination in U.S. a Reportedly Growing Problem

The South Asian American population was among the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010.  A survey conducted two years ago by Equity Labs found that nearly 7 in 10 members of the lowest Indian caste system working in the U.S. felt they were treated unfairly at their American place of employment. That same survey found that 3 out of 5 students in the lowest caste reported being discriminated against in school on that basis – from the time they were in kindergarten through college.

The Cisco case isn’t the first time caste system discrimination has been alleged in U.S. workplaces. However, it’s not a well-tested issue in U.S. courts. As such, this matter could set precedent in California.

Where the caste system issue has arisen in the American courts, it’s primarily been a question of immigration. One of the more infamous cases was that of United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1923. In that case a man who was an Indian Sikh identified himself as “high caste Aryan, of full Indian blood,” asking to be declared white to secure U.S. citizenship. At the time, South Asians weren’t allowed to become U.S. citizens through naturalization – unless they were white. That law has since been changed.

If you believe you have been discriminated against at work based on your caste system or other reason, our Orange County employment attorneys can help you review your legal options.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949-375-4734.

Additional Resources:

When Caste Discrimination Comes To The United States, April 25, 2020, NPR

More Blog Entries:

BLM Spurs Companies to Disavow Racial Discrimination, Critics Note Lacking Diversity, June 25, 2020, Orange County Employment Discrimination Blog

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