'Massive' visa fraud alleged in lawsuit against Indian firm

Sexual discrimination lawsuit filed by two women, one who worked in human resources, includes allegations of H-1B fraud

A former human resources manager at Larsen & Toubro InfoTech Limited Inc., a leading India-based IT services firm, accused the company of visa fraud in a complaint filed this week in a federal court in New Jersey.

Mumbai-based Larsen & Toubro is 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 Service.

The former employee, Nanda Pai, also accuses the company of sexual discrimination, and alleges sexist behavior by some of its employees in the suit.

Pai's lawsuit joins a class action lawsuit filed earlier by another female ex-employee with a similar discrimination allegation. The class action suit seeks "not less than $100 million."

Pai's job in human resources at Larsen & Toubro in New Jersey adds a new dimension to this case.

In her role as human resources manager, Pai was required to help process visa-related documents. She alleges that immigration fraud "appeared to be rampant" at the company, according to the lawsuit.

This lawsuit is similar to one filed against another major Indian firm, Infosy.

In that suit, former employee Jay Palmer alleged that the firm committed visa fraud. Palmer charged that when he refused to participate in the alleged fraud, he was harassed, and faced racial taunts and even death threats.

The details of his lawsuit caught Washington's attention, and Infosys is now facing a federal grand jury probe over its visa practices while Palmer's civil case continues.

A Larsen & Toubro spokesman reached in Mumbai Tuesday said the company isn't commenting on pending litigation.

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."

Pai's attorney, Krishnan Chittur in New York, said the visa issues are "extremely important" to the discrimination lawsuit.

"You begin with the proposition that they don't like women - they didn't like pregnant women," said Chittur, of the company.

When Pai 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."

When Pai complained about the added workload her managers "blamed her for being weak," something they attributed to her pregnancy "and bluntly told her" to quit, the lawsuit alleges.

Chittur said the signature forgeries, as well other visa practices, had Pai worried that she was being set up to be the fall person.

Chittur said Pai faced potentially terrifying prospects because of what was occurring. "The level of anxiety and tension can only be imagined," he said.

In regard to the discrimination complaint, Pai's lawsuit claims she was paid less than men doing similar work at the company.

Pai said she was "deprecated" with "sexist comments" when she complained. She submitted her resignation at one point but was convinced to stay.

In 2008 Pai told her supervisor about a decision to have a second child. She was told that "she would be required to choose between her family and her career."

This was happening at the same time the work visa issue was getting new attention in Washington.

The U.S. Attorney's office in New Jersey indicted several tech firms, including Vision Systems, in 2008, on H-1B fraud charges.

Also in 2008, a report by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service found high levels of fraud and technical violations.

Larsen & Toubro became concerned about its potential liability, and hired Ernst & Young to audit their immigration records and procedures. That audit was completed in October 2008, and found problems, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that the company engaged in a "massive cover-up" that included backdating documents and creating new ones.

The lawsuit alleges that the company misrepresented the wages paid to employees in visa applications.

When applying for green cards, the company was required to advertise for U.S. workers. The lawsuit contends that "every application that was received in response to such advertisements was rejected in advance."

The suit also claims that Larsen & Toubro falsely certified that it posted notices of jobs that H-1B workers were being hired for, as well as changing the location of the employee "from that which the U.S. government had granted the H-1B visas."

The lawsuit alleges that the firm failed to pay wages "which had been certified to the U.S. government in the H1-B visa application."

The lawsuit makes a number of allegations about the L-1B and business visas.

The Pai lawsuit joins one filed by Deepa Shanbhag, who was hired by the company as a contractor and later as a full-time employee.

Shanbhag joined as an employee on Jan. 25, 2011. On March 3, last year she informed the defendants that she was pregnant. She was terminated "the very next day," according to the lawsuit.

Shanbhag's lawsuit alleges that the company "fostered an intense climate of hostility towards women."

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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