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California Caste-Bias Case Misrepresents Hinduism, Suit Says

Sept. 22, 2022, 8:34 PM

A Hindu advocacy organization accused California’s civil rights agency of violating the constitutional rights of Hindu Americans with its enforcement efforts targeting alleged caste bias against South Asian workers.

The Hindu American Foundation Inc. announced Thursday that it sued the California Department of Civil Rights in federal court, saying the agency sought to define what Hindus believe by asserting that caste-based discrimination is integral to their faith and culture.

The group called out the civil rights agency’s 2020 lawsuit against Cisco Systems Inc., which alleged a worker who’s a member of the Dalit population was paid less and suffered other forms of bias because of his membership in the lowest caste in the social system.

Stopping caste discrimination is a worthy goal that boosts “Hinduism’s belief in the equal and divine essence of all people,” the organization said in its lawsuit.

“But wrongly tying Hindu beliefs and practices to the abhorrent practice of caste-discrimination undermines that goal, violates the First Amendment rights of all Hindu-Americans, and can only lead to a denial of due process and equal protection to Americans based on their religious affiliation and national origin,” the group said.

The agency’s enforcement actions would likely spark job discrimination against Hindu and South Asian Americans because employers will try to dodge the “undefined maze of legal uncertainty” related to California’s bar against caste discrimination, according to the complaint.

The California Department of Civil Rights declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Cause of Action: 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Relief: Declaratory judgment; enjoin the agency from any act or practice that defines Hinduism as including a caste system or any other belief or practice; enjoin the agency from bringing religious discrimination actions based on Hindu belief and practice including a caste system; enjoin the agency from ascribing beliefs or practices to groups who disclaim them; attorneys’ fees and costs.

Attorney: Scott Ku of Narayan Travelstead PC represents the Hindu American Foundation.

The case is Hindu American Foundation, Inc. v. Kish, E.D. Cal., No. 22-01656, complaint filed 9/20/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Iafolla in Washington at riafolla@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Genevieve Douglas at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com; Laura D. Francis at lfrancis@bloomberglaw.com