Cisco Sued Over Alleged Caste-Based Discrimination in California

The lawsuit alleges two upper-caste Indian-origin men discriminated against a Dalit employee at Cisco.

Published02 Jul 2020, 11:06 AM IST
World
3 min read

Multinational technology conglomerate Cisco Systems has been sued by authorities in the US state of California over allegations that an Indian Dalit employee had faced sustained discrimination on the basis of his caste at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters, reports the Associated Press.

The lawsuit filed by California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleges that two Indian-origin, upper caste men, who had moved to the United States when they were adults and in whose team the unnamed victim worked, had perpetuated this form of discrimination.

Why is it Important?

The lawsuit states that the “higher caste supervisors and co-workers imported the discriminatory system’s practices into their team and Cisco’s workplace.”

The allegation, if true, could help indicate just how far Indians have travelled with a mindset determined by values of superiority or the lack thereof, to different sections within it.

According to the lawsuit, Cisco’s treatment of the employee had violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.

The Civil Rights Act bans employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The lawsuit notes the employee is Dalit Indian, and that he is darker-complexioned than non-Dalit Indians.

What Was Cisco’s Alleged Role?

  • The lawsuit names two Indian-origin, upper caste men, Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella, who were both supervisors at Cisco and allegedly harassed and discriminated against the unnamed victim in different points of time.

  • When the victim opposed, he was reportedly punished by the men with lesser earnings and opportunities at the company.

  • According to the lawsuit, the victim had approached the company’s Human Resource, with the intention of filing a complaint against the alleged discrimination he faced.

The lawsuit alleges that Iyer retaliated by taking away the victims responsibilities, limiting his role and asking other employees to avoid him.

According to the lawsuit, Iyer was replaced by Kompella, who too, continued to discriminate against the victim.

Cisco, the lawsuit says, had investigated the matter, but failed to “substantiate any caste-based or related discrimination or retaliation” faced by the victim.

Who are the Two Men?

Sundar Iyer is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and Stanford, US, and co-founded Memoir Systems in March 2009, after his first stint at Cisco between 2005 to 2008.

  • His second sting at Cisco began in 2014, where he was the co-founder and head of Candid Systems – a Cisco Alpha Company.

  • In 2008, he took on the role of an Advisor at the company. It is not clear if he is presently employed with Cisco in any capacity.

According to the lawsuit, Iyer had told other employees that the victim was Dalit and that he had secured admission to IIT Bombay through affirmative action, better known as reservation.

Iyer, who the lawsuit alleges advised other employees to avoid the victim, calls himself a “Technology Entrepreneur, Advisor and Angel Investor” on LinkedIn.

His profile on the networking site also reads, “May the Truth Win.”

Ramana Kompella, who the lawsuit says replaced Iyer at Cisco, too is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, and is a batch junior to Iyer. Kompella, too, went to Stanford, where too, he was a batch junior to Iyer.

According to the lawsuit, he continued to discriminate against the victim by “giving him assignments that were impossible to complete under the circumstances.”

Kompella taught at the Purdue University for over seven years, following which he joined Google as Network Architect, where he worked from 2014 to 2016. He Joined Cisco as principal engineer in 2015 and left as Distinguished Engineer in 2019.

What is Cisco Saying?

In a statement, Cisco said it had a “robust processes to report and investigate concerns raised by employees” and that that it is in compliance with all laws and its own policies.

The company said will defend against the allegations in the complaint.

Cisco spokeswoman Helen Saunders declined to say if Iyer and Kompella were still at Cisco, reported AP.

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