Disney IT workers allege conspiracy in layoffs, file lawsuits

Legal action involves civil RICO claim over use of H-1B workers

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Disney IT workers laid off a year ago this month are now accusing the company and the outsourcing firms it hired of engaging in a "conspiracy to displace U.S. workers." The allegations are part of two lawsuits filed in federal court in Florida on Monday.

Between 200 and 300 Disney IT workers were laid off in January 2015. Some of the workers had to train their foreign replacements -- workers on H-1B visas -- as a condition of severance.

The lawsuits represent what may be a new approach in the attack on the use of H-1B workers to replace U.S. workers. They allege violations of the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), claiming that the nature of the employment of the H-1B workers was misrepresented, and that Disney and the contractors knew the ultimate intent was to replace U.S. workers with lower paid H-1B workers.

The lawsuits cite a form that H-1B employers fill out when placing a visa worker, the Labor Condition Application (LCA).

In the LCA, an employer states the job location, salaries paid to the H-1B workers and also attests that U.S. workers will not be "adversely affected."

But former Disney IT workers Dena Moore and Leo Perrero, in their respective lawsuits, allege that they were indeed adversely affected. They had to train their foreign replacements brought in by contractors, and then were terminated.

Both lawsuits name Disney as a defendant; additionally, Moore is suing Cognizant and Perrero is suing HCL.

The LCA requires employers to swear the visa workers "will not adversely affect working conditions" of existing employees, said Sara Blackwell, the Florida attorney who is bringing the case. "Obviously, if you have to train your replacement and then are fired, that is an adverse effect."

Since his layoff, Perrero has been working to raise awareness among lawmakers about the displacement of U.S. workers by foreign temporary labor.

"No shortage exists of American STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) workers," said Perrero. "Disney is not the only one to do this and lawmakers need to take action."

Blackwell is representing, as well, some 30 former Disney IT workers who have filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) over the loss of their jobs. These employees are arguing that they are victims of national origin discrimination.

Blackwell said her goal is to "stop the systemic abuse of the immigration system."

A Disney spokeswoman, in response to the lawsuit, offered this response via email: "These lawsuits are based on an unsustainable legal theory and are a wholesale misrepresentation of the facts. Contrary to reports, Ms. Moore was offered another position in the company at comparable pay, and more than 100 of the workers affected by the changes were rehired.”

According to Blackwell, Moore applied for many jobs at Disney and wasn’t hired. After being laid off, she went to work at another firm. Not long after she started that job, Disney sent Moore a job offer letter, prompting Moore to quit her new position so she could return to Disney. Although she expected to start work right away, the hiring date kept getting delayed and the putative Disney job turned into work on a short-term project, said Blackwell.

As a result, Moore did not ultimately take the job.

Officials at the two contractors were also asked for comment; none immediately responded.

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