California appeals court decides not to arbitrate in Cisco caste bias case

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OAKLAND, Calif.: Cisco Systems Inc on Friday lost a court appeal to bring a case over alleged caste discrimination at its Silicon Valley offices, where executives of Indian descent are accused of bias against a colleague from India, to private arbitration .

The network equipment and business software company has denied the allegations. It had argued before a California appeals court that the state’s civil rights department, which had brought the case on behalf of an employee identified under the pseudonym John Doe, should be subject to an employment arbitration agreement signed by Doe.

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“As an independent party, the ministry cannot be forced to arbitrate under an agreement it has not entered into,” the appeal panel wrote.

In a separate injunction on Friday, it told a lower court judge to reconsider a ruling that would have required the state to identify Doe. The lower court had said the law prevented it from considering whether Doe’s relatives in India could be harmed by naming him.

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The higher court wrote that “damage to family members anywhere is a legitimate consideration when determining whether a party should be granted anonymity.”

Cisco and the state agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The ancient socio-religious concept of caste has led to centuries of oppression of some families born into the lowest sects in India. California claimed that prejudice had spread to the US tech industry, where Indians are the largest pool of immigrant workers.

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The state took Cisco to court in 2020 after Doe complained to the company that company staff found no merit in his concerns that two upper-caste executives had allegedly denied him work and discredited him.

The lawsuit has sparked advocacy among US companies, universities and other institutions, calling for more guidelines and training regarding the potential for caste bias.

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