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When caste becomes a workplace discrimination issue

Since California is a center for the tech industry, a number of the workers from South Asia who come to the country on skilled worker visas may be located there. Some of those workers may have been among those who responded to a survey by the South Asian American human rights startup Equality Labs about workers from that region and caste discrimination in the United States.

Caste discrimination is thousands of years old, but it is rarely discussed in the United States. However, in areas where there is a sizable immigrant population of South Asians, it may emerge in the form of being unable to date someone of another caste, being made to sit somewhere else or being the target of slurs. Unfortunately, it can be a difficult issue to address because most Americans do not understand or recognize caste discrimination.

The 1200 survey respondents ranged from factory workers to employees of companies like Google and Facebook. Among the lowest caste, Dalits, around two-thirds said they had faced discrimination in the workplace. More than 40 percent reported discrimination in education, and 25 percent said they had been physically assaulted because of their caste. More than half of Dalits said they were worried that others would find out about their caste.

Most employees in the United States are protected against discrimination on the basis of characteristics such as race, religion and national origin. A person who is facing caste-based discrimination might want to talk to an attorney about the situation and whether it constitutes workplace discrimination as prohibited by law. The attorney may be able to advise the client about how to document and address the discrimination. This might be done first in the workplace, and if the employer's response is not appropriate, the employee might want to file a lawsuit.

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