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IT worker's lawsuit accuses Tata of discrimination

Patrick Thibodeau | April 17, 2015
IT services firm alleged to have overwhelmingly South Asian workforce in U.S.

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An IT worker is accusing Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) of discriminating against American workers and favoring "South Asians" in hiring and promotion. It's backing up its complaint, in part, with numbers.

The lawsuit, filed this week in federal court in San Francisco, claims that 95% of the 14,000 people Tata employs in the U.S. are South Asian or mostly Indian. It says this practice has created a "grossly disproportionate workforce."

India-based Tata achieves its "discriminatory goals" in at least three ways, the lawsuit alleges. First, the company hires large numbers of H-1B workers. Over from 2011 to 2013, Tata sponsored nearly 21,000 new H-1B visas, all primarily Indian workers, according to the lawsuit's count. Second, when Tata hires locally, "such persons are still disproportionately South Asian," and, third, for the "relatively few non-South Asians workers that Tata hires," it disfavors them in placement, promotion and termination decisions.

The lawsuit, which seeks class action status, is similar to a lawsuit filed last year against Infosys by the same Washington firm, Kotchen & Low LLP, in federal court in Wisconsin. Both cases have the potential of putting a new light on the operations of the H-1B-dependent offshore outsourcing industry and its use of visa workers.

The lawsuit against Tata arrives at the same time that a bipartisan group of 10 U.S. Senators are seeking an investigation by federal authorities into the displacement of U.S. IT workers by H-1B-using companies.

The plaintiff in the Tata case, Steven Heldt, is a former Tata employee and "one of the few non-South Asians to gain employment with Tata." The lawsuit describes a miserable experience during his 20-month employment period, despite a bachelor's degree in economics, a master's degree in IT, numerous certifications, nearly two decades of experience, and "service with distinction" in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division.

Heldt said that during his employment with Tata, he shuffled around to jobs that "often involved only menial responsibilities" and experienced "substantial anti-American sentiment" along the way. The lawsuit contends that one top Tata HR manager instructed recruiters to focus on hiring Indians, and that this official "has expressed his dislike for American workers," and "believes Indians were smarter and better qualified than Americans."

TCS, in response, said that it "is confident that Mr. Heldt's allegations are baseless, and plans to vigorously defend itself against his claims," said Benjamin Trounson, a company spokesman, in a statement.

"TCS is an equal opportunity employer, and as such, bases its employment decisions -- including recruiting, hiring, promotions, retention, and discipline -- on legitimate non-discriminatory business reasons without regards to race, national origin," and other protected characteristics, said Trounson.


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