In a first of its kind legal action, two faculty members of California State University, Professors Sunil Kumar and Praveen Sinha, filed a complaint in California federal court against their employer to prevent the university from enforcing a non-discrimination policy that was recently changed to include “caste” as a Protected Status. 

“We fully and vehemently oppose all forms of prejudice and discrimination,” said Prof. Kumar. “But CSU’s Interim Policy singles out all Indian origin and Hindu staff and students solely because we are Indian and Hindu. This by its very definition is discrimination and a denial of our basic civil rights.” 

“We regret having to take this action,” added Prof. Sinha. “But we simply cannot abide by a misguided policy, especially when there are other generally applicable and neutral categories already protected under CSU’s non-discrimination policy that can be used to address incidents of alleged caste discrimination.” 

Hindu American Foundation Executive Director, Suhag Shukla, Esq. and Managing Director Samir Kalra, Esq. explained that the CSU move to institutionalize caste as part of ethnicity in university policy violates the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses as well as the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

The complaint alleges that CSU is constitutionally barred from dictating the beliefs of any religion. Yet in responding to and relying upon, among other things, resolutions passed by the California Faculty Association and Cal State Student Association, CSU takes the position that caste is integral to the Hindu religion. No religion other than Hinduism is treated in this manner by the CSU Interim Policy.

Not only does CSU have no right to define what constitutes the Hindu religion, their characterization is incorrect that Hinduism mandates a racist and discriminatory “caste system”, the complaint states. 

CSU also runs afoul of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection that prohibits a state from treating disparately people on account of their race, ethnicity or religion. CSU’s Interim Policy singles out only certain faculty, staff and students on the basis of their religion and ethnicity by defining caste as a Hindu tenet and targeting South Asians. No other Protected Status in CSU’s Interim Policy addresses any specific ethnicity, ancestry or religion.

The professors’ Complaint also states that the 14th Amendment’s Due Process clause voids any policy that is too vague to implement. CSU does not define caste among its 44 specifically defined terms, thereby giving no guidance to anyone mandated to enforce the policy. 

Given CSU’s complete disregard to the rights of its Hindu and Indian origin employees, Profs. Kumar and Sinha have been legally irreparably harmed, the complaint alleges. 

 “CSU has created a dangerous precedent of institutionalizing bias against Hindu faculty and students of Indian origin,” said Samir Kalra. “Instead of protecting the civil rights of its faculty and students, CSU is actually violating them by trampling over the most basic and fundamental rights guaranteed by the US and California constitutions.”

“That’s why we’re supporting Professors Kumar and Sinha in the fight for not just their rights, but those of thousands of Hindu faculty and students,” added Shukla. “CSU’s unfortunate policy doesn’t just harm Hindu and Indian students and faculty today, it will harm them for generations to come.” 

Representing Profs. Kumar and Sinha in the case is Fox Rothschild LLC, through lawyers Michael Twersky (based in Philadelphia) and John Shaeffer (based in Los Angeles), with Hindu American Foundation Executive Director Suhag Shuka, Esq., and Managing Director Samir Kalra, Esq. serving as ‘Of Counsel’.