The California Civil Rights Department voluntarily dismissed a case that it had filed accusing two Indian-American Cisco engineers of caste discrimination, the Associated Press reported on Monday.
Voluntary dismissal refers to the termination of a lawsuit at the request of the plaintiff.
The Civil Rights Department had filed the lawsuit accusing two supervisors at the technology company – Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella – of discriminating against a Dalit engineer on the basis of caste. The Dalit employee was referred to in the suit as John Doe, a placeholder name used in United States law to conceal the identity of a person.
The case was dismissed last week by an order of a Superior County Court in the city of Santa Clara in California.
The department, however, said that a case it had filed against Cisco remained ongoing. The technology firm and the department are slated to hold a mediation conference on May 2, The Times of India reported.
The civil rights department had filed the lawsuit against Iyer and Kompella in July 2020. It alleged that the Dalit employee received less pay and fewer opportunities at the workplace. According to the lawsuit, Iyer and Kompella retaliated against him when he opposed “unlawful practices, contrary to the traditional order between the Dalit and higher castes”.
The Hindu American Foundation, a Washington DC-based advocacy group, had filed a petition in a United States District Court alleging that the California Civil Rights Department’s lawsuits infringed on the civil rights of Hindus by “falsely asserting” that Hinduism mandates caste discrimination. The foundation, however, did not take a position on the specific case involving the Dalit employee.
On Monday, the foundation said that it was thrilled that Iyer and Kompella were “vindicated along with our position that the state has no right to attribute wrongdoing to Hindu and Indian Americans simply because of their religion or ethnicity”.
It also noted that the Civil Rights Department had relied on a report by Dalit civil rights organisation Equality Labs to support its claims of widespread caste discrimination in the technology sector, but the court refused to accept the report as evidence in February 2021.
The Hindu American Foundation cited court records as saying that Iyer was accused of harassing the Dalit engineer despite evidence that he recruited him and offered him a “generous starting package with stock grants valued in the millions”.
It also quoted court records as saying that Iyer had also hired “at least one other self-identified Dalit who held one of the only three leadership positions in the division”.
The foundation’s managing director Samir Kalra said: “This trial presents a cautionary tale of the legal morass that awaits Indians, Hindus and all South Asians, if the state of California adopts a policy that applies to only South Asians and institutionalises false and negative claims that stigmatise our community.”
Last month, a California legislator named Aisha Wahab introduced a Bill to ban caste discrimination which, if passed, would make the state the first one in the country to outlaw the practice.
In February, Seattle became the first city in the United States to ban caste discrimination after its local council voted to add caste to the city’s non-discrimination laws.
Thenmozhi Soundararajan, founder and executive director of Equality Labs, said that the dismissal of the case against Iyer and Kompella “does not change anything”, the Associated Press reported. She said that the case “has given so many Dalits the courage to come forward with their stories about caste discrimination in education, the medical and tech industries”.
Soundararajan added: “This is not a loss, but progress. The Dalit community owes [the engineer] and the Civil Rights Department gratitude for having the courage to bring such a historic case forward.”