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Infosys prepares U.S. settlement over visa use, as it faces new class action suit

Class action lawsuit alleges Indian outsourcer discriminated against U.S. workers

October 17, 2013 05:36 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON - One of the largest users of H-1B visas, Infosys, is facing a federal class action discrimination lawsuit filed against it by four people, and may be close to reaching a potential multimillion dollar settlement with the U.S. government over allegations it misused visitor visas.

In the class action suit, four IT and sales people broadly claim that Infosys, an India-based IT services provider, has a U.S., workforce that consists of "roughly" 90% South Asian, primarily Indian, citizens. The lopsided workforce is a result of "intentional employment discrimination," the lawsuit alleges.

The plaintiffs use their own experiences to make the case.

The class action lawsuit was originally filed in August by Wisconsin IT professional Brenda Koehler, who claims she was discriminated against when Infosys hired a Bangladeshi worker over her. The lawsuit was recently amended, adding three other workers who allege discrimination in some manner.

Although filed as a class action, the lawsuit has not yet been certified by the court as one.

One of them, Layla Bolten was employed by Infosys to work on the District of Columbia's $49.5 million health benefit exchange system for the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. lnfosys won a contract for the project.

Bolten was hired as a tester, a lesser position than a test lead post. The "vast majority of 'test lead' positions were filled by South Asian workers, individuals with "considerably less experience with software testing," the lawsuit alleges.

Bolten sought a job promotion on multiple occasions, but says Infosys promoted, South Asian workers instead, it says. The vendor also brought in less experienced visa holders to work on the project, the lawsuit alleges.

Bolten was "harassed because she was not Indian, and her supervisors excluded her from work conversations by speaking Hindi," the lawsuit charges.

Another party to the lawsuit, Gregory Handloser, started working at Infosys in 2004 as a sales manager, but claims that the company in 2011 "began a concerted effort in the U.S. to purge non-South Asian employees in favor of South Asians."

Handloser said Infosys began to set unrealistic sales goals for him, denied his bonuses, and ultimately fired him. Similar to Bolten, he claims supervisors and co-workers excluded him from work conversations by speaking Hindi.

Infosys wouldn't comment on the class action lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Infosys has also been a target of a federal government investigation into its use of B-1 visas, or visitor visas. In a recent securities filing, the company said it had reserved $35 million to resolve this issue. The total includes legal costs.

A settlement with the U.S. hasn't been announced.

The government case stems from a 2011 lawsuit brought by an employee, Jay Palmer, who alleged that he was harassed at work for refusing to help the company use B-1 visas for work that required H-1B visas.

That case was thrown out by a federal judgeby a federal judge over Alabama state law technicalities. Palmer, a federal whistleblower, alleged that Infosys illegally used foreign workers on client projects, and said he faced threats for raising the issue. Although the judge found Palmer's allegations troubling, he concluded that the claims weren't covered by state law.

In 2012, Infosys announced it was the target of a federal investigation into its visa use and said the government had found errors "in a significant percentage" of employment authorization forms, or Form I-9 without explaining what those errors might be.

An Infosys spokesman, in an email said, that the company "is engaged in discussions with the U.S. attorney's office and other government departments regarding a civil resolution of the government's investigation into the company's compliance with Form I-9 requirements and past use of B-1 visas."

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

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