Caste Discrimination Ban Vetoed in California

In July 2020, the California Civil Rights Department filed a lawsuit against Cisco, a Silicon Valley tech company, for illegal discrimination, including caste-based discrimination. Cisco supervisors allegedly paid engineers less because of their caste in India and allegedly retaliated when the engineers opposed the unlawful practices.

Dalit were at the bottom of the social hierarchy in India and as a caste were considered “untouchables.” People were assigned to their respective castes from birth and offered no social mobility. Work and marriage were restricted between castes and the castes were often segregated from one another. Castes were officially banned in 1950, but culturally are still prevalent even in modern India.

The first Indian immigrants to the United States were from the Brahmin and the Kshatriya, the higher castes in India. It wasn’t until recently that lower castes began immigrating to the United States. Unfortunately, many of the Indians who came to America inappropriately believe that the caste system still applies in America and often discriminate against other Indians or Indian Americans on the basis of caste. Although the caste system in India has its roots in Hinduism, caste systems can be found among Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Muslims and Sikhs.

In February 2023, Seattle became the first jurisdiction in America to ban caste discrimination. California’s legislature passed a bill against caste discrimination, but the bill was vetoed by Governor Newsom in October 2023. The governor called the bill “unnecessary” as California already prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, and national origin. However, the California Civil Rights Department has since dismissed its claims of caste discrimination against Cisco, though it is still pursuing the lawsuit against Cisco on other grounds.

Castes Are Inherently Unconstitutional Discrimination

The caste system is inherently in conflict with the founding principles of the United States Constitution. The United States Supreme Court has long established that racial segregation is unconstitutional. Racial discrimination is wrong because it denies equal protection of the law to individuals and instead prejudices people based on their racial groups, which they are born into and cannot change.

The caste system is no different from racial discrimination. The caste system imposes segregation and restrictions on work and marriage on arbitrary designations given at birth. No one has a choice in what caste they are born into anymore than what race they are born to. While caste discrimination is primarily discrimination within a single nationality (Indians), discrimination within a protected class is still illegal discrimination. It is not acceptable for Indians to discriminate against other Indians.

Governor Newsom claims that an explicit law against caste discrimination is unnecessary because of other laws against discrimination. However, the California Civil Rights Department was just forced to withdraw its claims of caste discrimination because it has no explicit support in the law. Clearly, California courts require more guidance in caste discrimination than what the current laws offer.

Anti-Caste Discrimination Laws Will Protect Hindus

Various Hindu and/or Indian groups lobbied against the caste discrimination bill on the grounds that the bill would lead to discrimination against Hindus or Indians. However, the caste system is an issue because it leads to discrimination by Hindus or Indians against other Hindus or Indians. And while the caste system came from Hinduism, it had since expanded outside of Hinduism. Anti-caste discrimination will not cause discrimination against Hindus or Indians; in fact, such laws are necessary to stop discrimination against Hindus or Indians.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer If My Employer Does Not Accommodate My Religious Beliefs?

If your employer refuses to accommodate your religious beliefs, or if your employer takes any discriminatory action towards your employment based on your religious beliefs, you may have a claim for religious discrimination. A skilled employment attorney will be able to determine whether your employer has acted in a discriminating manner and, if so, can represent you during settlement negotiations or in court if necessary.

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