Tech giant Cisco is facing allegations that the company has not taken proper action to stop caste discrimination within its workforce. The case underscores the need for legislation outlawing caste-based discrimination in countries with South Asian diaspora communities such as the US and UK.

The federal lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), alleges that dominant caste managers at Cisco’s San Jose headquarters campus, which employs a predominantly South Asian workforce, harassed, discriminated, and retaliated against an engineer because he is a Dalit.

“It is unacceptable for workplace conditions and opportunities to be determined by a hereditary social status determined by birth,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish. “Employers must be prepared to prevent, remedy, and deter unlawful conduct against workers because of caste.” 

The lawsuit against Cisco is a landmark case because it is the first civil rights case in the US where a governmental entity is suing an American company for failing to protect caste oppressed employees and creating a hostile workplace. In the UK, Parliament has acknowledged the existence of caste-based discrimination and equality legislation to prevent this was introduced and approved in 2013. However, this legislation is yet to be implemented and is in danger of being repealed. In the US there is no legislative framework to address caste-based discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere. With large South Asian diaspora communities in these countries, it has been documented on many occasions that caste discrimination transcends borders and needs to be addressed wherever it occurs. 

“In countries like the UK and the US, anti-caste laws are necessary because we cannot change a casteist mindset overnight, but we can we can try and change casteist behaviour by making that behaviour unlawful,” said Meena Varma, Executive Director of the International Dalit Solidarity Network. 

Anti-caste discrimination bodies in the UK and US have been working hard to push for legislative measures and policies addressing caste to be adopted. The Coalition of American Ambedkarites Organizations has also released a statement on the Cisco case. 

“As the subcontinental population has increased exponentially over the last couple of decades, and that too in strategic positions in the American corporate bastion, our worst fears are coming true where caste plays a most decisive role in every walk of life,” the statement reads. 

The statement also calls for caste-specific policies to be implemented in organisations with South Asian workers as well as global organisations operating in countries with a presence of caste-based structures. 

IDSN member, the Dalit Solidarity Network UK is actively advocating for the implementation of anti-caste discrimination legislation in the UK and IDSN works with companies to promote the introduction and implementation of anti- caste policies and measures in operations and supply chains in caste-affected countries. We hope that this case will help further the understanding in the corporate sector for the need to look at addressing caste specifically.