Outsourcing on trial next week before U.S. jury

Next week, I’ll be in Montgomery, Alabama to cover the Jay Palmer versus Infosys trial in federal court.  It’s a trip worth making because there’s never been a case quite like this.

Jay Palmer, an Infosys employee, claims he was harassed at work, sidelined, and even received death threats for refusing to participate in a scheme to allegedly use visa workers illegally at customer work sites. (A second lawsuit with similar claims was filed this month by a former Infosys employee.)

Infosys, according to the lawsuit, was using B-1 visa holding workers for jobs that require an H-1B worker. The B-1 visa is a visitor visa with limited uses, but it is a much easier visa to get than an H-1B work visa.

Palmer’s allegations caught the attention of U.S. authorities, who have been probing the company’s visa use.  

Palmer is aware of what his case may represent. In an interview he gave to CBS, Palmer said: “You know, it's not about me. This story is about displaced American workers and about companies out for greed."  

India-based Infosys has revealed little about its defense, and once the trial begins there’s no betting on the outcome. Courtrooms are reality distortion fields shaped by the evidence admitted and testimony allowed.   

While there have been  lawsuits filed over the years by the government challenging visa use violations, or employees challenging some aspect of offshore outsourcing, I can’t recall any case that has been heard before a jury.

The Montgomery jury that hears this case may not know a thing about enterprise IT, or the differences between H-1B and B-1 visas. But everyone should know a little about jobs going overseas, and this case may give Palmer and Infosys an opportunity to explain just how that works.

This case is about what happened in a workplace.  The broader issue, offshore outsourcing and U.S. visa policy, isn't on trial. But who knows what the jury will be thinking as this trial unfolds in a year when outsourcing is a leading election issue.   

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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