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Cognizant charged with H1-B visa abuse by US staff

Last updated on: July 22, 2011 16:12 IST

Cognizant charged with H1-B visa abuse by US staff

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Ritu Jha in New York


Eighteen American information technology professionals have filed a civil lawsuit against its former employer, Cognizant, for replacing them with people from India who were hired by the IT major on H-1B visas.

The case was filed in April this year at the Superior Court for the State Of California County of Los Angeles - South District against Molina Healthcare Inc., and its outsourcer Cognizant Technology Solution on charges of national origin discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, negligence, tortuous interference with economic advantage, violation of Unfair Business Practices Act, fraud in the inducement, age discrimination, failure to take all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination, retaliation, violation of the labour code and failure to pay overtime pay.

"The 18 workers are American, naturalized citizens and even green card holders. None are Indian by birth," said Joe James A. Otto attorneys for the plaintiffs to India Abroad.

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Image: Cognizant's Chennai facility.
Photographs: Courtesy, Cognizant
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He said this case is straight forward. "We have so much proof and so many witnesses that it won't leave anything to be decided by the judge. Cognizant imports foreigners to replace Americans," said Otto.

However, Barbara A. Fitzgerald a partner in Morgan Lewis's Labor and Employment Practice, defendant attorney did not return repeated phone calls.

Cognizant is a leading provider of information technology, consulting, and business process outsourcing services headquartered in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Molina is a healthcare insurance company engaged in the business of providing healthcare services exclusively through Medicare and Medicaid.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Otto alleged that Cognizant brings in only Indian workers in large numbers and they do not allow anybody to apply for jobs at Molina.

In 2005, the plaintiffs were employed by Molina in various capacities in the IT department as security analysts and computer programmers, most of whom earned at least $75,000 per year, with benefits.

The plaintiffs said they excelled at their jobs and were rewarded with promotions, merit salary adjustments, and awards in recognition of their work.

The lawsuit filed case says that since 2006, Molina has spent a large portion of the taxpayer's money to fire American workers and to hire an abundance of workers brought in from India.

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Image: Congizant chief excecutive officer Francisco D'Souza.
Photographs: Rediff Archive
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For example, in or around 2007 and 2008, Molina terminated approximately 100 American workers in various states to make room for over 100 labourers from India to handle all of Molina's United States business operations.

According to the lawsuit on January 13, 2010, the United States Department of Labor approved Cognizant's application for 40 H1-B visa holders from India to work at Molina for $50,000 per year without benefits.

Otto said, "Cognizant hires about 1,000 employees from India. He added that Cognizant went to Molina and convinced Molina to fire the Americans and my feeling is that this is the standard operating procedure for all of these bodyshops. There is no need to bring in 200 or more people when we have so many here. I think this is illegal," said Otto.

He said he knows a lot of Indians and this case is not about Indians at all. But about US employers, like Cognizant, who break the law.

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Photographs: Reuters
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"This lawsuit is all about breaking the law. It's about fairness. You compete with each other on the basis of your talent and your years of experience and that's what happens in America," said Otto.

Otto said he had witnesses from Molina and that its former human resource director had found out that many of these Indian employees are on H-1B jobs. These employees are coming in at entry level positions with false certificates, charged Otto. He also alleged that many of these entry level employees 'do not know anything and they need lot of training and do not know what they are doing'.

He added that these big companies are supposed to pay higher wages than what is actually being paid and "we know Molina and Cognizant have broken that law because H-1Bs who are coming over are paid $50,000 a year and the people who were fired were making $75,000 year. So these companies are not paying the H-1Bs what the law says. They are also exploiting the H-1B workers," stated Otto.

Also the case has charged Amir Desai, an individual of Indian descent and a former chief information officer of Molina between 2006 and 2010.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Cognizant
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Desai was ultimately responsible for making policy decisions on Molina's behalf, such as the employment status of employees and the national origin makeup within the information technology department of Molina, the lawsuit said.

It was during his tenure and over a period of the past three to four years that Cognizant has been supplying Molina, through Desai, with non-immigrant employees from India, it has been charged.

Cognizant, Desai and Molina conspired to displace competent US employees of Molina with workers brought in by Cognizant, the lawsuit said.

In so doing, the defendants have bilked federal and state taxing authorities, violated various US statutes, and harmed millions of US workers, including the plaintiffs, it has been charged.



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