The California State Assembly on Monday overwhelmingly passed legislation that would add caste as a protected category under the state's anti-discrimination laws.
It’s been a long fight for many, including one woman who left her high-profile job at Google because of concerns over caste discrimination.
“It has been over one year since I left Google,” said Tanuja Gupta, testifying in July before the state assembly judiciary committee on SB403, the first in the nation bill to add “caste” to the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
The former senior manager at Google made news last year when she tried to organize a talk about caste discrimination.
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A talk she says was postponed, after several Google employees said they felt unsafe.
“When I blew the whistle on this decision, Google lowered my performance rating, reduced my compensation, and deemed me ineligible for future promotions, meanwhile, email threats that denied caste discrimination, or made open bigoted statements read throughout the company's large list serves, unchecked by HR” said Gupta at the hearing.
Google did not comment on those allegations.
“In the last year it has been such a journey to focus much less on myself and more with the numerous workers who have reached out to me, not just at Google but at different companies shared what they've experienced, shared how they reported discrimination to their employers, and then got nothing back because their employers don't think caste discrimination is a thing,” said Gupta.
She said she invited Thenmozhi Soundararajan, the founder of Equality Labs, a non-profit Dalit civil rights organization to speak in 2022 as part of an education talk during Dalit History Month.
She said the goal was to bring awareness to the caste system and specifically Dalits.
Known as “untouchables,” Dalits are at the bottom of the 3,000-year-old system of social hierarchy.
That talk never happened.
“We can't have great diversity in your products if you don't understand all the facets of diversity,” said Gupta.
She said the allegations against her that put her under investigation were, “that I publicly named the handful of employees that complained to HR about the talk and about the unsafety that they felt in the workplace. The allegations are not true.”
“So when I got that letter that told me I created a disruptive workplace, that I made people feel unsafe and that I violated certain codes of conduct of managers. I knew that I was facing a form of retaliation,” said Gupta.
She filed a complaint requesting Alphabet – the parent company of Google – to look into the investigation filed against her and accusations of retaliation and worker safety.
“Four months after I filed my complaint. They came back and said, 'no discrimination, no problems found', not. And, they didn’t put anything in writing,” said Gupta.
A point Google negates.
In referring to Gupta's accusations, a company spokesperson said, “In this instance, there was specific conduct and internal posts that made employees feel targeted …”
Gupta also filed a retaliation claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission raising concerns about caste discrimination.
That EEOC investigation is still ongoing.
“What I think has been most surprising is that Google one year later has not added caste as a protected category to their anti-discrimination policies, and they still have not had a talk on caste equity,” said Gupta.
Google did not comment on the EEOC investigation, but the Mountain View company maintains, “Caste discrimination has no place in our workplace … we made the decision not to move forward with this proposed talk which was pulling employees apart rather than bringing our community together … ”
“I was always an advocate for workers rights,” said Gupta.
She is now in law school in New York and has helped set up the Caste Equity Legal Task Force, a national coalition of lawyers, professors and law students.
“There were so many feelings," Gupta said about the personal toll this took on her. "One was just humiliation that what had happened and how naïve I could be, that I could work for a company so hard and really try to make good change within 'the system', only to have it come crashing down on me when I hit that nerve … I think everyone is recognizing discrimination is discrimination. And California has a very unique opportunity to lead in this fight.”
The bill, which has already cleared the senate in its original form, goes back to the chamber for a revote. And if that passes, it goes to the governor's desk.