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Ex-Cisco worker claiming caste discrimination avoids arbitration

A former Cisco Systems Inc. worker claiming he was a victim of discrimination because of his low caste standing won appeal court rulings allowing him to proceed with a lawsuit under a pseudonym in open court.

The man, known as John Doe, said revealing his identity could jeopardize the safety of his family in India. A trial court judge had ruled the safety of family members outside California can’t be considered in determining whether a party can proceed under a pseudonym. The state appeals court overruled that decision saying Friday that “evidence of potential harm to family members anywhere is a legitimate consideration.”

The man claimed supervisors at Cisco’s San Jose headquarters were cutting him out of meetings and failing to promote him because of his membership in the Dalit caste. He also accused Cisco of retaliating against him after he complained about his treatment.

The Dalits are the lowest rung of the hierarchical South Asian caste system.

The appeals court affirmed the trial judge’s ruling rejecting Cisco’s request to move the lawsuit to arbitration.

The networking giant claimed it had the right to move the case out of open court because the employee alleging bias had signed an arbitration agreement as a condition of employment.

Writing for the court, Justice Adrienne Grover said Cisco could not compel arbitration because the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed the suit on the employee’s behalf and wasn’t a party to, nor had it signed, the arbitration agreement.

“As an independent party, the department cannot be compelled to arbitrate under an agreement it has not entered,” the judge said.

The case is Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. Superior Court, H048962, California Court of Appeals, Sixth District (San Jose). Bloomberg

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