Asian-American tech worker Andre Wong says Lumentum execs banned Mandarin and made rice jokes in new lawsuit


A former Asian-American employee is suing Silicon Valley tech company Lumentum, alleging a year-long pattern of racism ended with his firing when he tried to speak out.

Andre Wong, 52, filed the lawsuit in Santa Clara Superior Court on June 30, seeking $20 million in damages. The suit of him comes in the middle others by tech workers who say they are pushing up against the «bamboo ceiling,» barriers that have prevented Asians from advancing to senior leadership positions.

During his two decades at Lumentum, Wong alleges that he watched management ban informal Mandarin from being spoken in the office, and was ridiculed for the way he pronounced Rs, being told that speaking out about racism “made the whites felt bad. In an NBC News interview and in his official complaint, he also says he was turned down for an executive-level position overseeing a technology he created.

His lawsuit says his firing was a direct result of speaking out about workplace discrimination against Asian Americans that he had experienced and observed.

“My main goal is to drive change in the industry,” Wong said. “There are a lot of stories out there that just don’t get told. There is fear of reprisals.»

Lumentum, a multinational telecommunications equipment company, did not respond to a request for comment.

Wong, a Canadian-born Asian-American, had been working at Lumentum for 22 years before he was laid off in December. While there, he says, he developed 3D sensing technology that the lawsuit claims brought in $1 billion to the company.

But Wong says that even though he pioneered the show, he was denied an executive role to oversee it and instead was subjected to a revolving door of white managers.

“I had to train these white managers and introduce them to my industry contacts, and that in itself made me very frustrated,” he said. “I felt like I was hitting my head against the door thinking, ‘What should I do?’”

A 2021 biography on the Lumentum website described Wong as «instrumental in achieving Lumentum’s leadership in 3D Sensing.» But he feels that he was never seriously considered for a promotion. Instead, when it came time to hire for the executive role in 2020, two outside candidates, a South Asian man and a white woman, were considered for the position.

Andre Wong said laser technology giant Lumentum in San Jose has a bias that hurt him personally and professionally.NBC Bay Area

“After the interview process concluded, management told the team that they preferred the white woman because she ‘was not like us,’” the complaint states.

But Wong says this was not the first or most overt incident of discrimination he has experienced at the company.

Once, when he was preparing for a board meeting where he had to give a presentation, a white executive ridiculed him for how he pronounced the R’s and told him to pronounce them, according to the complaint. Wong said this seriously affected him.

“He became obsessed with my pronunciation of ‘program,’” he said. “That was all he cared about, he didn’t care about the content of my presentation. He completely shook me, I lost confidence. When I had to give the board meeting shortly after, I couldn’t even think about what I needed to present.»

Management banned Chinese engineers from speaking Mandarin at work around 2015, Wong said. When employees raised concerns, they were ignored, he said.

“At the time, I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “That was just one of many cases.”

At a general meeting, he said, white managers also joked about whether employees were «steaming rice» at one of the company’s factories in China.

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the Atlanta spa shootings, company-wide conversations about race led him to connect with his Asian-American coworkers, he said. He found that they all had similar experiences, he said, and started a resource group for Asian employees.

He hosted events open to everyone at the company, including a presentation where he and others shared their personal stories of discrimination, he said. One of the slides also prompted management to hire a proportionate number of Asian employees for higher-level positions, according to a copy of the presentation obtained by NBC News. He was later told by senior management that the presentation “made white people feel bad,” he said.

Over the next year, he continued to speak out, according to the complaint, and in May 2022 he was forced out of his job on the 3D sensing team and reassigned. After seven months in the new position, during which he continued to uphold what he perceived to be a culture of discrimination, he was fired, the lawsuit says.

While Wong is front and center in the lawsuit against Lumentum, he says these stories are mirrored throughout the tech industry and are increasingly turning up in lawsuits against Silicon Valley companies. If he wins, he said, he plans to donate a significant portion of his winnings to fight discrimination against Asians.

His lawyer, Charles Jung, says he hopes this is the start of a movement.

“Our goal is not just to achieve change in one case, but to achieve change in the industry,” Jung said. “I think what this series of cases reflects is that Asian Americans have had enough of being treated as second-class citizens, often seen as technical or competent and fit for the factory floor, but rarely fit for the job. leadership in any organization.

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