Apple faces Indian engineer's bias lawsuit over her ancestry

The woman said she was forced to resign from her job as a technical engineer after tolerating years of discriminatory treatment.
The woman said she was forced to resign from her job as a technical engineer after tolerating years of discriminatory treatment.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Apple lost an early round in a discrimination lawsuit brought in the United States by a female engineer from India who says her two managers - one from her country, the other from Pakistan - treated her as they would in their own countries: as subservient.

The woman's case in the California state court is the latest to allege workplace bias in Silicon Valley that arises from the prevalent cultural prejudices of tech workers from South Asia.

Separately, Cisco Systems is fighting a suit brought by California's civil rights agency alleging bias against a member of India's Dalit caste, formerly referred to as the "untouchables".

In the Apple case, Ms Anita Nariani Schulze said she was forced to resign from her job as a technical engineer at Apple in 2019 after tolerating years of discriminatory treatment at the hands of her senior and direct managers.

She said the two consistently excluded her from meetings while inviting her male counterparts, criticised her, micromanaged her work, and deprived her of bonuses, despite positive performance evaluations and significant team contributions.

Ms Schulze claimed that part of the managers' animus against her was due to her Hindu ancestry in Pakistan's Sindh region, which she said is "known for its technical acumen" and encouragement of "women to rise above their historically subservient gender roles".

In a tentative ruling on Wednesday (March 24), Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Sunil Kulkarni rejected Apple's request to toss out the suit. While not ruling on the merits of the case, Judge Kulkarni said Ms Schulze had adequately supported her legal claims. Apple had argued that her claims were not specific enough and were based on stereotypes.

But the judge rejected Ms Schulze's request to represent a class of female Apple employees who suffered job discrimination over the last four years. He agreed with Apple that she did not show a pattern of discrimination that could be applied to a broader group.

Apple did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

In the Cisco case, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleged that two Indian employees at the San Jose-based company discriminated against a Dalit co-worker on the basis of caste.

Cisco has denied the claims, insisting that it has "zero tolerance for discrimination". It also said the lawsuit should be tossed out because caste is not a protected category under US civil rights law.