Monday, September 18, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Monday, September 18, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge tosses Hindu American group civil rights case against California

A judge agreed with the state that Hindu American Foundation had no standing to sue because it wasn't clear who they represented and who had been harmed by an enforcement action against Cisco Systems.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a civil rights lawsuit by the Hindu American Foundation that accused the California Civil Rights Department of mischaracterizing Hinduism in its caste-based discrimination enforcement action against Cisco Systems and two of its managers.

U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd in Sacramento ruled that the foundation, which describes itself as “the largest and most respected Hindu educational and advocacy institution in North America," lacked standing to bring the lawsuit because, among other reasons, the foundation had never claimed to have represented Hindus or anyone else employed at Cisco.

In addition, the judge noted, the foundation hadn't made any factual allegations of actual or imminent harm as a result of the Civil Rights Department's state court lawsuit, let alone actual harm to any individuals that the foundation seeks to represent.

"The notion that the department’s allegations in the state court complaint — a civil rights enforcement lawsuit seeking to stop and prevent caste-based discrimination — would somehow lead other Hindu Americans to make religious accommodation requests to discriminate against co-workers based on their perceived caste and that employers might then actually grant those requests due to their interpretation of the department’s allegations in the Santa Clara action is both highly speculative and seemingly implausible," Drozd said.

Drozd permitted the foundation to amend its lawsuit to overcome the shortcomings he had identified, but also expressed skepticism that these shortcomings could be fixed.

Representatives of the foundation didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.

The Civil Rights Department, formerly the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, sued Cisco in 2020, claiming that managers at its San Jose headquarters campus, where the workforce is predominantly South Asian, harassed, discriminated, and retaliated against an engineer because he is Dalit Indian, a group once known as the “untouchables” under what the department called India’s centuries-old caste system.

The Hindu American Foundation claimed in its 2022 complaint that California acted unconstitutionally in its case against Cisco Systems, "by seeking to define what Hindus believe and decide how they practice their religion, in violation of the First Amendment. "

According to the foundation, the Civil Rights Department wrongly stated “that a caste system and caste-based discrimination are integral parts of Hindu teaching and practices by declaring the caste system to be a ‘strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy,’ which requires discrimination by “social custom and legal mandate.” 

Follow @edpettersson
Categories:Civil Rights, Courts, Government, Regional, Religion, Technology

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.