HAF Files Motion to Intervene in Santa Clara Court Discrimination Case

Santa Clara, CA: Last week the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) filed a motion in Santa Clara County Superior Court to intervene in the case of California Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. Cisco Systems. HAF has filed for injunctive relief to prevent the state’s overreach and violation of Hindu American rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendment and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. HAF’s motion to intervene takes no stance on the specific allegations of discrimination in the case.

“HAF vehemently opposes all discrimination and stopping it is a worthy goal, one that directly furthers Hinduism’s teachings about the equal presence of the divine in all people,” said Suhag Shukla, HAF’s Executive Director. “But, wrongly tying Hindu religious beliefs to the abhorrent act of caste discrimination undermines that goal and violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of all Hindu Americans.”

In its complaint, California argues that Cisco failed to address discrimination against one of its engineers by co-workers on the basis of his presumed caste. California goes on to state that caste is “a strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy” and therefore an integral part of Hindu teachings and practices.

Framing its argument in this way, California is attempting to do what the Constitution clearly says it cannot, HAF said: defining Hindu religious doctrine for Hindus.

“In the United States, there is no role for government to define our religious beliefs, whether it be Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity or any other.  In fact, the Constitution expressly prohibits it. HAF’s actions are an important step in protecting the rights of all Americans,” stated Tim Travelstead, lead attorney for HAF.

Should California’s attempted violation of the First Amendment rights succeed, the due process rights of all Hindu Americans would also be violated, claimed Foundation representatives.

In its filing, HAF asserted that California provided no definition or workable method to determine anyone’s caste other than an assumption that Hindus of Indian decent must identify as part of a specific caste, ascribe to a “social and religious hierarchy,” and engage in caste discrimination. This inaccurate and unconstitutional definition would perversely lead to increased targeting of and discrimination against Indian-origin, and particularly Hindu workers, the Foundation stated.

The State of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Cisco Systems in June  2020, accusing the company of engaging in unlawful employment practices over a claim by an Indian-origin employee that two managers, also of Indian origin, allegedly discriminated against him on the basis of his assumed caste. The case was initially filed in federal court, but has since been re-filed in state court. Cisco Systems is promising a vigorous defense, rejecting the claim of discrimination.

The State of California has asserted that the caste system is “a strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy,” and therefore an integral part of Hindu teachings and practices. This is  in contradiction to the precepts of the religion and the beliefs of an overwhelming number of its own adherents. The State is asserting that Hinduism is inherently discriminatory and that all Hindus discriminate.

California has also failed to provide any definition or workable method to determine anyone’s caste. It’s not concerned with what Hindus actually believe and is instead targeting them on its presumption that all Hindus of Indian decent must identify as part of a specific caste, believe in a “strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy,” and engage in caste discrimination just because they’re Hindu.

California’s actions blatantly violate the rights of Hindu Americans. The US Constitution prohibits the state from interfering in questions of religious doctrine and prevents the state from depriving any American of their right to liberty.

The State of California is attempting to legally define the Hindu religion as a bigoted religion and Hindus as bigoted people.

Such a false interpretation of Hinduism makes all Hindus suspect in the eyes of the general public. It encourages widespread discrimination against hiring, firing, or promoting of Hindus. Since Hindu children already report being bullied in school when caste discrimination is misportrayed as intrinsic to their religion, the California case puts Hindu children at greater risk for bullying in schools.

Given the lack of religious literacy and cultural proficiency in the United States, all people of Indian origin will likely be presumed guilty of baseline bigotry as well. All Americans should care because while it is Hindus being targeted by the State of California today, tomorrow it may be others.

HAF has filed a motion to intervene in the case to protect the religious freedoms and rights of Hindu Americans, and all Americans of faith, from the unconstitutional efforts of the State of California to impose the scope and nature of Hindu religious beliefs, teachings, and practices.

HAF’s position in this dispute is clear — we vehemently oppose all forms of prejudice and discrimination regardless of whether it is prohibited by policy or law and we reject any claim that prejudice and discrimination based on caste are inherent to Hinduism.