Indian H-1B Body Shop Called Sexist, Too

By David North on April 6, 2012

By now we are all familiar with the charge that many major users of the H-1B program for high-tech and other professionals, including at least some of the India-based "body shops" or out-placement organizations, are biased against American workers, especially older (i.e., 35-plus) ones.

And now one has been charged in court with being sexist, too — by a woman with an Indian name.

According to Patrick Thibodeau's Computerworld article "Massive visa fraud alleged in lawsuit against Indian firm," the firm following these allegedly sexist policies is "Mumbai-based Larsen & Toubro ... a major user of H-1B visas, ranking fifth last year on the list of largest visa users. The company had 1,608 visa approvals in 2011, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services."

Former Larsen & Toubro employee Nanda Pai filed the action, joining a class action suit filed by another female ex-employee making similar charges and seeking a settlement of "no less than $100 million."

There will a hearing on that case, Shanbhag v. Larsen & Toubro Infotech Limited, in the New Jersey district federal court on April 16. (Users of PACER, the federal courts' electronic reporting system, can follow the case at 2:11 -cv-06965-FSH-PS; the initials at the end of the citation are those of the district court judge, Faith S. Hochberg, and the magistrate judge, Patty Schwartz.)

Pai was in an excellent position to complain about Larsen & Toubro's alleged employment practices as she worked in the presumably busy visa processing section of the firm's HR department. According to Computerworld, she "alleges that immigration fraud 'appeared to be rampant' at the company".

The article continues: "Pai alleges that her signature was forged on various visa-related documents, and when she asked about the forgeries 'she was advised to stay silent.'"

Her complaint of sexism includes a charge that when she "informed the company in 2009 that she was pregnant, her supervisors 'substantially increased her workload so that she had to put in grueling 18 hour workdays on a regular basis.'"

Or as her lawyer put it, "You begin with the proposition that they don't like women — they didn't like pregnant women."

A company spokesperson, reached by Computerworld in Mumbai, would not comment on the controversy.

This case has some similarities with that of whistle-blower Jay (Jack) Palmer against the Indian firm Infosys, another major user of H-1B visas, filed with the federal district court in Texas and described in an earlier blog of mine. Both cases are private suits against major H-1B employers, both are in the federal courts, and both seem to get more coverage in the trade press and in Indian business publications than in the mainstream U.S. media.

H-1B critics should hope that both of these suits go to trial, with the publicity that such actions entail, and are not settled silently out of court as was a similar case in New Jersey described in an earlier blog of mine. In that one, a 50-ish U.S. citizen software engineer sued Infosys for age bias — the company initially said he had too much experience for the job. Presumably the settlement included a hefty financial payoff by Infosys, but unfortunately it also included a pledge of silence by the plaintiff.