Recently, 30+ Cisco employees and ex-employees wrote a letter to the CRD demanding a public apology from CRD. Caste Files spoke to some of the Cisco employees and alumni (who wish to remain anonymous at the present time) to get their testimonials and have reproduced the testimonials verbatim. One Cisconian said,
“Cisco is a company which aims to foster a collaborative, safe, and respectful environment for all members of its ecosystem. Cisco has been selected as the best Fortune 500 company and ranked #1 in a row for 3rd year. As Cisconian, I am proud to work and stand by such a company. It is very offensive that CRD targeted Cisco to impact it culturally and financially (to impact stocks) by bringing in blatantly false cases and misusing its power. CRD head and folks should resign. Equality Labs should be implicated as a notorious NGO and should be blackmarked for bringing a Hate and agenda-based case. The CRD and Equality Labs should apologize publicly, especially to the Indian Community, for trying to divide and their hate-filled agenda.”
In the Fortune 500 Best Places to Work 2023 rankings, Cisco Systems has maintained its No. 1 spot for the third consecutive year. Cisco’s inclusive workplace is built on a strong sense of purpose that comes through in projects like the Purpose Report and ESG Reporting Hub, where the company has been publicly detailing progress on its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives since 2005. Amanda Cumberland, director of ESG strategy and reporting, insights, and impact at Cisco, recently wrote about how proud she is of the difference Cisco makes for people and the world. “We don’t have it all figured out yet, but we want to keep learning and doing more,” she says.
Cisco’s purpose is to power an inclusive future for all. It is a leader in corporate social responsibility and puts a major emphasis on fostering a healthy company culture within its organization. 98% say Cisco is a physically safe place to work. 97% say they are treated regardless of their sexual orientation, and 96% say they are treated regardless of their race. 95% reported that they were proud to tell others they work for Cisco. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, 87% of employees call Cisco a psychologically safe place to work. As one of the employees revealed in a testimonial,
“I worked at Cisco for around 7 years and never felt that there was any discrimination towards me or anyone else. I left Cisco in the recent past as my growth was stagnating, and I found a better opportunity elsewhere for my career. However, my leaving Cisco had nothing to do with any alleged racial or caste discrimination, and my experience at Cisco was overwhelmingly positive.”
This does not come as a surprise, as Cisco has a long history of zero tolerance for discrimination. Cisco began to pay equity reviews more than seven years ago and has extended that to promotions and the full spectrum of compensation beyond base pay. With roots in California, Cisco has long taken an expansive view of workplace discrimination and, even before the US adopted legal protections on sexual orientations, Cisco provided hearings and remediations, in any case, raising issues of discrimination based on LGBTQ status. Additionally, unlike many companies, Cisco is fully transparent with its employees and their Board about the number of internal complaints raised by employees alleging bias, discrimination, harassment, or bullying and bad behavior.
It, therefore, came as a big surprise when on June 30, 2020, the California Civil Rights Department (CRD), formerly CalDFEH, sued Cisco and two of its managers for alleged caste-based discrimination. Cisco had earlier conducted two rounds of internal investigations and found no evidence of any caste discrimination, stating, “Given our principles, had we found discrimination or retaliation, we would have remediated it, regardless of the fact that there is no legal basis in the US for a claim of caste discrimination.” CRD insisted on confidentiality for the plaintiff, calling him ‘John Doe,’ a courtesy that was not extended to the two managers who were accused of alleged caste discrimination. Instead, Doe and CRD publicly named the managers, resulting in harassment and abuse on social media with no chance to be heard and defend themselves for almost three years of brutal witch hunt and trial by media.
On April 10, 2023, after being threatened with sanctions by the Cisco managers (defendants) for the fabrication of evidence, CRD withdrew their complaint against both defendants, Iyer and Kompella. Contrary to their past actions to keep this in the Court, CRD approached Cisco, yet again, for confidential mediation, most likely to keep their fabrications out of public scrutiny and hide the fact that their meritless lawsuit had no factual basis and was legally frivolous. The mediation ended in an impasse, yet the Cisco lawsuit is still being quoted in media to justify SB 403, a controversial bill seeking to add Caste as a category in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As one of the employees said confidentially, “(it is) a very damaging case upsetting the decades of balanced harmony we have enjoyed in the United States.” Cisco alumni told us that “CRD must publicly apologize for its blatant misuse of power.”
The tarnishing of the image of Indian Americans as casteists using allegations as facts and the ostracism faced by many Cisco employees is categorically documented in an open letter on the website californiaforjustice.com, which has been receiving press inquiries after their statement was revealed recently.
It is evident that the Cisco case has continually built a caste narrative. This is now being used to introduce the ethnically targeted caste bill SB 403, which has served as a wedge issue, driving divisions in the Indian American community.