Lawsuits against employers based on workplace discrimination are nothing new, but there’s one lawsuit making its way through the California system that every employer should be watching: It’s about caste discrimination.
In 2020, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against tech-industry giant Cisco, alleging that the company had permitted discrimination against a member of India’s Dalit caste — once called the “Untouchables” — by upper-caste colleagues.
How is a foreign social structure affecting workers in the United States?
The caste system in India, although outlawed, still creates a stratified social hierarchy that puts Dalits firmly at the bottom. Many Indians in the technology industry (both those born overseas and those born in this country) say that the caste system has followed them here — and it affects their ability to earn a living.
While Cisco has fought to compel arbitration in the case and even sought to have the case dismissed based on the fact that caste is not specifically cited in anti-discrimination laws, the lawsuit is still winding its way through hearings and appeals. Whatever the outcome of this particular case, it may be portent of things to come as more and more advocates openly question whether “caste” should be listed as protected class.
Should your company get ahead of the issue?
Undoubtedly, the best way to avoid a discrimination lawsuit is to be proactive the moment you recognize there may be a problem. A progressive approach can keep your company from facing the same sort of problems that Cisco is currently trying to manage — and preserve your brand’s reputation.
Updating your company’s anti-discrimination policies to include caste and providing your management team and staff with anti-discrimination training regarding caste now can go a long way toward preventing future legal problems. You can use your existing anti-discrimination policies and procedures as a foundation for the changes.