Caste Discrimination in Silicon Valley & California

People from all over the world come to the United States for a new beginning, and the promise of a better tomorrow. This is especially true for lower caste Indians, including the Dalits, or the “untouchables” who have left a society that treats them as if they are disposable. However, as many Dalits have found, it is not easy to escape India’s caste system, a 2,000-year-old social hierarchy deeply rooted in the way people live and die.

Though the caste system was abolished in India in 1950, its tradition of oppression persists – particularly in the tech industry. More and more Indian Americans or Indians working on H-1B visas are being subjected to significant discrimination and harassment based on their former caste.

If you are currently facing workplace discrimination or harassment by a supervisor or a coworker on the basis of Indian caste, the employment attorneys at Mathew & George can help. We have over two decades of experience helping employees who have been wronged throughout California, and we will fight for you, and your rights.

 Workplace Discrimination, Harassment, and a Hostile Work Environment

Workplace discrimination is when you are mistreated or denied opportunities because of your race, color, religion, disability – or in this case, your caste. Harassment is a form of workplace discrimination when it is unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, or another protected class. A hostile work environment is when you feel uncomfortable or unsafe working as a result of the discriminatory behavior.

Examples of Workplace Discrimination

  • Denying an employee a promotion if he or she qualifies for one
  • Negative criticism or evaluations that are unreasonable or excessive
  • Not providing equal pay when it is earned
  • Favoring one protected class over another
  • Terminating an employee or rejecting his or her application, unjustly
  • Isolating employees

Understanding the Caste System

The caste system divides Hindus into four main categories:

  • Brahmins (highest): priests and teachers
  • Kshatriyas: warriors and rulers
  • Vaishyas: traders and merchants
  • Shudras (lowest): laborers

Dalits, also called “untouchables,” are outside of the caste system, and are below the Shrudas. Historically known for cleaning up waste, they are considered impure and are segregated from the upper castes in all matters: food, education, even the space they are allowed to take up on the road. Their women face sexual violence by upper class men. As a whole, they lack access to health care and other vital services.

In India, the caste you are born into is for life, and it can control everything – from the person you marry, to the job you hold, to the value and respect you are treated with every day.

The caste system is more prevalent in the villages and rural areas of India than in the city. In the U.S., Dalits and other lower caste Indians live in constant fear that someone will expose them, that they will lose the little freedom they have gained, if they are discovered.

Examples of Caste Discrimination in the U.S.

In June 2020, an engineer from the lowest caste, the Dalits, sued Cisco for caste discrimination in his California workplace – marking the United States’ first discrimination case to focus on caste.

The engineer’s two supervisors came from India’s upper castes and knew that he was a Dalit, the only one on their team. Instead of defining him by his job role, they defined him by his caste, giving him lesser pay and limited opportunities. When he spoke out about his mistreatment, he faced retaliation – a more insignificant role on the team, isolation from his coworkers, and unreasonable assignments.

His case pushed other Dalits or lower caste Indians to speak out about their own discrimination in the tech industry, including another engineer – a woman in the Valmiki Dalit caste. Her coworkers mocked her after meetings, repeatedly asking her to clean up because her caste was known for cleaning up excrement. She left her job after being sexually harassed by a supervisor, for reasons related to her caste.

Is Caste Discrimination Illegal in California?

The caste system is technically not included in the protected classes of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, that does not make it okay. Caste discrimination remains a form of discrimination, and one we take very seriously at Mathew & George. We will give it the time and attention it deserves.

What to Do if You are Facing Workplace Discrimination

First, know that you have options. If you are facing workplace discrimination, know that this state of panic is not the norm and you can seek help and receive the compensation you deserve.

  • Look at your company’s internal discrimination policy and reach out – an internal investigation can help in a lot of cases.
  • File a charge of employment discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – make sure to check the statute of limitations, so you do it before the deadline. You can also call 1-800-669-4000 to talk to someone about your specific situation.
  • Document evidence of discrimination and hold onto it. Keep track of every occurrence in a notebook, save emails or anything in writing, and remember if you had witnesses who can vouch for you.

In all cases, it is normal to be afraid of taking action, or facing retaliation. But remember that you have the right to be treated fairly, and the right to do something.

Contact a California Discrimination Attorney Today

If you are facing discrimination at the workplace and are feeling lost or overwhelmed, know that you have resources and the ability to change your situation. The Los Angeles discrimination lawyers at Mathew & George have the experience to help you with your case.

Whether you have questions, concerns, or just need a little guidance, schedule a free consultation at (310) 478-4349.