When I first learned that an H-1B worker named Fazlur Mahammad was suing an Indian oursourcing company that had allegedly forced him to "pay cash for his salary", to quote the complaint, my initial reaction was "Go Mahammad!", as I have a well-founded dim view of the H-1B program generally.
I learned of the case from an item in the San Jose Mercury News, just about the only daily newspaper in the nation that pays attention to H-1B issues on a regular basis. The headline included: "Firms accused of breaking laws on human-trafficking".
Upon closer reading of the complaint (filed in the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Illinois in the PACER system as case 1:18-cv-08173), I grew dismayed as a potentially devastating situation was being attacked in what can only be described as an inept manner. But first, the specifics (as extracted from the complaint).
The Bare Facts. Fazlur Mahammad, apparently an Indian national, was in Canada when Kellton Tech Solutions, which has its headquarters in Hyderabad, India, recruited him in 2015 to work in the United States, first on a B1/B2 visa, and then later on an H-1B visa. Then, according to the complaint: "Defendants regularly used the threats of deportation or visa revocation as against Plaintiff if he did not pay cash for his salary."
The plaintiff evidently complained about his treatment and he was fired by Kellton. He subsequently filed a civil complaint against the firm and a couple of related corporations. We know nothing about his current immigration status or whereabouts.
Looking Deeper. Kellton is a major operation; with 1,400 employees (presumably world-wide). Searching Myvisajobs.com, which keeps track of H-1B filings, by year shows Kellton filed for 1,013 H-1B workers in the years 2015-2018, and probably secured about one-third of that number.
Given the rich rewards for employers implicit in the H-1B program, why would a big operator try to shake down an individual worker? Maybe it did, but on reading the complaint one keeps running into (somewhat awkward) statements like these:
Defendants regularly used the threats of deportation or visa revocation against Plaintiff if he did not pay cash for his salary. Sanjeev Arcot told Plaintiff to pay cash to Raj Gupta in order to pay Plaintiff's salary.
Plaintiff received an email from a personal email account to deposit monies to another employee's, Rakesh Podupati, bank account in the United States and India.
The implication of the complaint might be that the employer was shaking down Mahammad by forcing him to kick back parts of his salary to the company via the private accounts of its workers. A more likely reading is that individual staffers were extorting funds from him for their own purposes, and that the employer either did not know about this practice, or knew about it and ignored it.
The complaint, however, is directed at the employer only and does not name any of the alleged immediate recipients of funds, such as Gupta or Podupati, as defendants.
Missed Opportunities. In addition to the problems noted above, three other elements of the case shouted out to me, but are missing from the complaint.
The first missing element, which might not do Mahammad much good, is the allegation that the employer, probably illegally, hired him while he was on a B1/B2 (or tourist) visa; this is contrary to the law.
The second missing element is what may or may not be religious discrimination. Let's look at some of the names involved.
Fazlur is an Arabic name, suggesting as does the plaintiff's last name, that the worker is a Muslim. The names of the alleged conspirators — Arcot, Rakesh, Raj, and Sanjeev — all have Hindu origins. It is well known that the Indian outsourcing companies generally are biased in favor of young male Indian nationals from the Southern (mostly Hindu) part of the nation, and more specifically, we know that Hyderabad (headquarters to Kellton) is a predominantly Hindu city.
Mightn't some of Kellton's Hindu employees — presumably the majority population in the firm — have ganged up on this Muslim worker? Perhaps not, as the complaint does not deal with that issue — but the complaint itself is not a very convincing document.
The third missing element is the most obvious one. Despite the fact that the entire suit is based on apparently successful efforts to extract money from Mahammad, there is no attempt to total the amount of money extracted; that key operation is left to the jury.
This is not to say that there is no reference to specific sums; in one place it is noted that "said deposits made by the Plaintiff were usually in the amount of approximately $3,300." One other shakedown was noted at $10,000; and the employer was charged with making Mahammad pay $2,000 or so in government fees for the visa, which is, of course, illegal. So why not add up the sums involved and the interest owed?
Why use the neutral term "deposits" when dealing with extortion?
In addition, the complaint appears to have been written hurriedly by someone who had a limited familiarity with the language; time and again we see things like this: "Plaintiff's was paid payroll on June 20, 2017, when he then paid the demanded cash."
Why not hire some under-paid high school English teacher as an editor?
I wish Mahammad well in this suit, but worry that problems with the complaint, as noted above, will cause its failure.