A recent spate of court cases involving foreign worker abuse at Michigan State would seem to confirm the following generalizations:
- If you abuse foreign students, you probably break other laws as well;
- A faculty member in charge of grad students has near god-like powers over them; and
- Don’t mess with the U.S. Army.
The misbehaving corporation (an H-1B user, of course) also had imposed on it an unusual, and commendable, penalty in the form of a settlement.
We have learned from a U.S. attorney’s press release and numerous documents in the PACER files, that Parviz Soroushian was a professor of civil engineering at Michigan State University in East Lansing; that he was, on the side, president of Metna Company, the H-1 B user; that he was alleged to force his grad students to work for his company and “paid them substantially less than the hourly rate that Metna quoted to the Army in its contract budget proposals”; and that he lied to the Army when his firm said that it did not have any foreign students on its payroll.
The professor’s company had secured one or more Small Business Innovation Research contracts with the U.S. Army. Metna shows up in the Myvisajobs website files as an employer of an H-1B worker who was paid the ultra-modest amount of $47,901 in 2019.
Earlier, in an unrelated case (PACER 1:19-cv-00220-HYJ-SJB), the professor and his company made payments of $45,000 to each of two foreign students to settle their workplace abuse charges. And, just to keep things interesting, the professor sued the university for mistreating him because of his Iranian heritage and collected $22,000 from it.
But the really interesting settlement was of the most recent suit, in which the professor and his company paid $500,000 “to resolve allegations” and — this is different — “Metna and its president agreed to two-year government-wide exclusions from federal contracting and financial assistance.”
The latter should be a standard provision in such cases. Perhaps the lies to the Army helped stiffen the penalties.
Depressingly, there is nothing in the court records to suggest that his firm should be banned from foreign worker programs, and the U.S. attorney’s office press release does not mention Soroushian’s name, though it comes up regularly in the court records.