What does a 2,000-year-old caste system in India that once divided people into stratified social layers have in common with a workplace discrimination case in California in 2020? Possibly everything, according to a new lawsuit filed by the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
According to the lawsuit, tech conglomerate Cisco, which is headquartered in Silcon Valley, permitted two of its supervisors to engage in discrimination against one of their engineers based on caste. The discrimination victim, an engineer, was born into India’s Dalit class. Dalits are commonly referred to as “untouchables,” and are the lowest on the rung of castes.
Technically, India abolished the rigid caste system in 1950, which opened the doors for many people in the lower castes to have better lives. Despite the country’s official stance, however, prejudices remain among the populace.
The California suit alleges that the two supervisors, also Indian by birth, knew that the third was a member of the Dalit caste and treated him badly because of it. He was allegedly expected to accept his lower standing among the others and was given “inferior terms and conditions of employment,” including less pay and fewer opportunities for advancement. When he complained, according to the lawsuit, he faced retaliation and intimidation, including isolation from his co-workers, assignments that were impossible to finish and reduced responsibilities.
While discrimination lawsuits based on caste aren’t common, the problem may be more widespread than most people realize. A 2018 survey by Equality Labs found that 67% of people who identified as Dalits indicated that they had been treated badly at work simply because of their caste.
Workplace discrimination takes a lot of different forms. If you feel like you’re being treated differently because of your race, religion, gender or other characteristic, take action to protect your rights.