EXCLUSIVE: California’s Civil Rights Division's Cisco Lawsuit Is the Father of the Caste Discrimination Bill SB 403

Mustafa Quraishi

California’s SB 403, another social justice measure to outlaw caste discrimination, glided through the Senate in May on a 34-1 vote. It is now under review for passage in the Assembly, and the Democrat majority is slated to pass it.


Why is this important? Because along with reparations to Blacks in order to right supposed wrongs in a state that never owned slaves, California lawmakers now feel the burning need to address caste injustice. According to the bill’s author, State Sen. Aisha Wahab (D-Hayward), caste discrimination has been on the rise with the in-migration of people of Southeast Asian descent.

If you thought a “caste” was something used to set a broken bone, you’re not alone. The average American, let alone the average Californian, rarely connects to what is essentially a cultural issue. Which begs the question, if this issue affects a specific community, why can it not be resolved within that community? Why does the government need to become involved at all?

“Caste” is a centuries-old class system reportedly based in the Hindu religion, and rooted in India and Southeast Asia. Dalits or “broken” or “untouchables” are categorized as the lowest rung of the societal ladder. Brahmins are considered the highest rung, with various stages of the ladder in between. Unless you are a Vedic scholar or in that people group, this form of discrimination is difficult to wrap your head around and even more difficult to assess. These supposed prejudices are brought with the immigrants and injected into the communities that are built in their adopted home country. The British government moved to outlaw the caste system in 2013 and has experienced opposition from the very community it was seeking to protect. California has almost one million people who have self-identified as South Asians. Many are concentrated in the Silicon Valley, and the Cisco Corporation is one company that became embroiled in one of these caste-related dust-ups.

Wahab’s bill seeks to make caste a protected class by modifying the state Unruh Civil Rights Act, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, and the state policy that bans discrimination in public schools. And as in Britain, not everyone in the Southeast Asian community is on board, as CalMatters noted:

Legislation to do that is contentious. In April, it drew one of the largest public hearing turnouts for any bill before California’s Legislature this session. It would be the first statewide measure of its kind in the nation, although Seattle passed a similar ordinance in February.

While many Californians may never know anyone who experiences caste discrimination, or even what it is, for some, it’s both hidden and inescapable.


Senator Wahab’s stake in the game is that she is the first female Afghani Muslim to serve as an elected official in the state, and she is a first-term senator looking to make her mark in a progressive state. Lots to prove, and much to lose if she fails. But Wahab is swinging for the fences, as she told The Guardian:

America is getting more diverse. We are seeing more and more types of discrimination based on things that the United States has historically not had the depth to deal with. To say caste is not an American issue is incorrect. The more diverse the country becomes, the more we are going to see a surge of these kinds of prejudices. And we have already started seeing that. Just take the example of the Google case and several other cases happening in the Bay Area as well as across the country. Why did Seattle feel the need to ban caste-based discrimination? Why is Toronto also doing the same? Why is there such a big movement to tackle this issue? Because it’s happening. So we as policymakers want to be proactive and make sure that all people are protected regardless of where they come from or their background or anything like that.

Is it really the government’s role to regulate this? As the recent past attests, California’s efforts to regulate everything from fossil fuel use to independent contractors have done more harm than good. However, what this truly reflects is the great power this state gives to its regulatory bodies to dictate actions beyond their intended scope, and then use the California Legislature to create laws to codify their excesses.

Take, for example, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and its draconian emission and green policies. Local municipalities like Berkeley decided to create an ordinance to ban gas stoves, and Los Angeles and other city councils have followed suit. A federal court has so far slapped these measures down, as California loves to act first and then cause the taxpayer to suffer further by paying for lost litigation.

CARB’s influence has all but killed the trucking industry in California, the automotive industry, and natural gas production. But the Employment Development Department said, “Hold my Bud Light.” EDD’s malfeasance from the pandemic fraud and its targeting of independent contractors via AB5 has gained national attention due to Joe Biden’s attempt to allow Deputy U.S. Secretary of Labor Julie Su to fail up and become Secretary of Labor. When she was Secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, Su used AB5 to finish off what was left of the owner-operator trucking industry and destroyed the livelihoods of entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, and independent professionals that used to call California home. Now she wants to do this to employment nationwide. The EDD is an example of another California regulatory body that exists to harass, not to help.


Now, the CRD is on a mission to finish everyone off. The 2020 lawsuit against Cisco Corporation was CRD-inspired and is essentially the genesis for SB 403. Wahib referenced this lawsuit as a prime example that issues involving caste are a pressing problem in her senate district and throughout California. CRD has mounted a number of adversarial lawsuits against major corporations, and this writer would surmise is a major reason for the outmigration of business from the state. A Hoover Institution report presented data on just how bad things have become:

An earlier version of this paper examined only the first six months of 2021. This revision includes all of 2021. We find that the number of companies relocating their headquarters out of California in 2021 occurred at twice the rate of 2020. Our findings show that 352 companies moved their headquarters to other states just in the period from January 1, 2018, through December 31, 2021, based on either the date of the announcement or the date of documentation with the state, whichever came first. Every month in 2021, twice as many companies relocated their headquarters as in the prior year. The monthly average for 2021 also significantly exceeds the monthly averages for 2018 and 2019. California lost both very large companies, including eleven Fortune 1,000 companies between 2018-21, and small, rapidly growing companies with the potential to become transformational. From this perspective, California is not only losing current leading businesses, but potential future leading businesses as well.

Between 2018 (after Gavin Newsom became Governor of the state), through 2021, California has lost 352 corporate headquarters, including Tesla, Charles Schwab, Oracle, Hewlett Packard Enterprises, and McKesson. Taxes, regulatory burdens, a lack of a qualified workforce, and the difficulty (if not impossibility) in expanding operations are all factors cited by the statisticians. But what they often do not factor in is these CRD-manufactured discrimination cases which cost the corporations millions in litigation and lost productivity. Tesla has most recently escaped California for the more business-friendly environs of Texas. With CRD’s meddling, could Cisco be next?

According to an investigation by the California Policy Center (CPC), the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH now rebranded as CRD) has never been a well-regarded agency or even particularly effective. CPC uncovered a 1997 state audit report that laid bare that administrative inefficiencies led to case backlogs and failure to resolve many of the complaints filed with DFEH within the imposed one-year deadline. Half of the complainants ended up acquiring outside counsel, while the other half languished in bureaucratic purgatory, waiting for DFEH to take action that never came. Those with limited resources were underserved and ultimately ignored.


In 2009, the RAND Institute also did a study on the DFEH and its inefficiencies. The RAND investigation discovered,

a need to align DFEH resources with its obligations: either reduce DFEH’s responsibilities or increase staff resources. RAND also came up with an Option C of sorts: a limited authority for the department to take cases directly to court. “In the alternative,” the authors opined, “perhaps DFEH should be provided with an alternative to FEHC, and permit the DFEH to bring civil actions directly in Superior Court where claimants with meritorious claims have been unable to secure counsel on a contingency basis.

Instead of using taxpayer dollars to employ competent staff and trim the fat elsewhere, the agency decided to employ Option C on steroids. Like pouring gasoline on a dumpster fire, Governor Jerry Brown decided to reward the incompetent agency with its own personal slush fund. Both the CPC and other oversight organizations point to the 2012 “Bounty Hunter” provision, or Senate Bill 1038, signed into law by Brown, as the excuse DFEH needed to make itself an illegitimate enforcement arm.

A year after the RAND report, Jerry Brown replaced a termed-out Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Governor’s Office. Toward the end of his first legislative session in 2012, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 1038 granting DFEH authority to take discrimination complaints to court. In a deviation from the RAND recommendation, that authority was not limited just to the underserved population – if dispute resolution failed, any case was eligible. The bill further abolished the Fair Employment and Housing Commission which had adjudicated DFEH cases.

SB1038 also provided DFEH with a special fund that was sourced outside of the state’s General Fund. This special fund is where deposits of all court awards and settlements would be held in order to support the existing state-designated budget. This budgeting mechanism has worked much like the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), merely incentivizing lawsuits with bigger payouts in order to obtain a greater financial return.

DFEH rebranded itself the Civil Rights Division (CRD) in July of 2022 and fully embraced this activist bent, pursuing spurious lawsuits, and manufacturing charges of systemic harassment and patterns of discrimination out of whole cloth. Suits against companies such as Riot Games, Tesla, and Activision are part of this pattern. The caste-based discrimination lawsuit against Cisco continues to cement it.

The suit was brought by an alleged Dalit (low caste) worker dubbed John Doe.


Doe’s complaint to the Department alleged Cisco discriminated against him because of ancestry or race. He reported that two supervisors denied him opportunities and disparaged him because, under the traditional caste system of India, he is from the lowest caste and they are from the highest. Doe also accused Cisco of retaliating when he complained about being treated unfavorably because of his caste.

The Department notified Cisco of Doe’s complaint, investigated it, and decided it had merit. Attempts at informal resolution were unsuccessful. The Department then filed a lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court against Cisco and the two supervisors. Doe is not a party to the suit.

The first CRD lawsuit alleged that Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella, two Cisco supervisors of Indian descent who were alleged to be of Brahmin caste, discriminated and harassed John Doe because he was of the Dalit caste.

The plaintiff states that he went to the Indian Institute of Technology with one Cisco mananger, Sundar Iyer, who is of the highest Brahmin caste. Iyer is accused of sharing Doe’s untouchable status with another Indian manager and using that information to make the plaintiff’s working life difficult.

“Because both knew Doe is Dalit, they had certain expectations for him at Cisco,” the lawsuit alleged. “Doe was expected to accept a caste hierarchy within the workplace where Doe held the lowest status within the team and, as a result, received less pay, fewer opportunities, and other inferior terms and conditions of employment because of his religion, ancestry, national origin/ethnicity, and race/color.

While this case was dismissed in early April 2023 by the Santa Clara Superior County Court, sources reveal that several actions performed by the CRD in their investigation not only tainted the case against them but disproved the charges of caste discrimination.

  • The CRD alleged that Sundar Iyer discriminated against Doe (a self-identifying Dalit). But the CRD hid information from the judge that Iyer offered all the Head leadership positions in the group (including the Head of Engineering position that Doe claims discrimination for and even his own CEO position) first to a different senior Dalit. Two of these positions were also awarded to the senior Dalit, before any complaints of caste discrimination.
  • The CRD assigned a “Brahmin” caste to Sundar Iyer, even with years of documented evidence that reflect he hold no religious beliefs. The CRD did this based on his birth, when Hinduism and the inherent caste system are based on religious belief. They used the same measure for Ramana Kompella without any documented evidence.
  • CRD interviewed Ramana Kompella for a short 15 minutes. They then used him in the suit calling for indefinite damages for alleged caste harassment. In the Sanctions Motion, despite the record of eight years of John Doe’s employment at Cisco, the CRD was unable to find or make any legal claim against Ramana Kompella or Sundar Iyer. The bureaucracy had no factual basis to support its claims of harassment.

The website castegate.org gives a timeline of the Cisco lawsuit from inception until now, which shows the CRD created spurious claims not backed by court documents, tampered with dates, hid material evidence, and also did what other business sources have reported is a key tactic used by the CRD: trying the case in the court of public opinion before allowing the investigation and facts to prove the basis for a case. On June 30, 2022, the then-DFEH issued a press release crowing about the lawsuit it had filed against Cisco and the two supervisors. This led to subsequent exposes in VICE, Slate, Wired, and a host of other local and national publications painting caste discrimination as an overarching problem in Silicon Valley.

Caste Gate dot org has made a mission of exposing the CRD and its excesses.

Outrageous Government Abuse in California. A crowd-sourced whistleblower website by bipartisan Americans who care about the Truth

We present sensational facts on the fabrications fueling the caste issue in the USA. We expose the xenophobia and overreach of the California Civil Rights Department (CRD, previously DFEH). We uncover the CRD’s racial profiling of 3 Million+ Hindu Americans by accusing them of physical assault and rape, violating their First Amendment Rights, dividing Hindu and irreligious Americans by forcibly assigning them castes, and bullying Silicon Valley corporations (43+ corrupt actions in the Cisco Caste Case) with caste litigation and extortion.

On June 8 a group of 30-plus Cisco employees wrote an open letter demanding an apology from the CRD for its gross discrimination and overly-zealous targeting of their work for the company in the dismissed lawsuit against Iyer and Kompella, and the ongoing lawsuit against Cisco.

“As a result of the adverse publicity from the CRD’s hyperbole, all employees, especially immigrant South Asians were deemed responsible for degrading the culture at Cisco. Despite Cisco’s public statements, the reputational harm done to us has not been dispelled. Redress for this harm caused to our personal lives is likely not possible, and the time we have lost is gone forever. Without restitution, our reputations are tarnished permanently.”


The CRD has done this damage without the force of law. Imagine the increase in this damage, including businesses removing themselves from California, if SB 403 passes the Assembly.


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