$100 Million Sought as New Discrimination, Immigration Violations Complaint Filed against L&T

In a new twist to the class claims lawsuit against India-based conglomerate Larsen & Toubro and its U.S. subsidiary L&T Infotech, an amended complaint has been filed to include yet another former female employee of the company who has alleged gender and pregnancy discrimination, and has also outlined in detail massive immigration violations that the company was indulging in.

The federal court in New Jersey had recently upheld class claims for sex discrimination against the company, filed on behalf of a former employee, Deepa Shanbhag, who was fired from her job as a business analyst a day after she announced her pregnancy to colleagues at her New Jersey office.

The previous lawsuit sought damages of not less than $20 million on behalf of a class of about 1,500 past and present women employees at L&T Infotech, and injunctive and declaratory relief to stop further misconduct. The amended complaint, filed on Monday, seeks $100 million (repeat dollars hundred million).

L&T Infotech is a global IT services, design and solutions provider to major multi-national corporations, including Citigroup, Chevron and Sanyo.

The case, if it goes the distance, may have a nation-wide impact on sex discrimination litigation, and is likely to fuel further debate on conduct with women employees. In recent times, Novartis faced $250 million verdict in punitive damages after losing a bias case, Aaron's Inc. faced $95 million verdict in a sexual harassment case, and there was a $1.9 million verdict against Walmart in a gender discrimination case.

The lawsuit, brought by prominent New York attorney Krishnan Chittur, alleges that L&T discriminated against Shanbag and other employees on grounds of sex and pregnancy.

The amended complaint filed by Chittur alleges that L&T engaged in gender discrimination against women employees with respect to job assignment and compensation, among others, and created a hostile and abusive work atmosphere for pregnant employees, including for Nanda Pai, a former employee based at the company's New Jersey office. They also unlawfully terminated women employees on false pretenses, he said in an interview to Global India Newswire.

According to the amended complaint, Pai joined L&T Infotech in February 2006, as Manager-Technical Recruitment. Despite having experience of

13 years with highly reputable companies, with a sterling performance record, the company offered her a salary of $44,000 per year, which was significantly below what her male colleagues doing similar work were being paid, the suit alleges.

Despite the title, her duties were entirely administrative and ministerial, work that involved carrying out instructions from male supervisors, it says.

In May, 2007, Pai received an excellent performance review and was promised a significant increase in salary to be on par with male colleagues. When she expressed her dissatisfaction with the discrimination in salary, her supervisor deprecated her with sexist comments, including her income was nothing more than a bonus

for her family, the suit alleges. She had nothing to worry about, according to them, because her husband was earning and her salary did not matter.

Hence, they said, she should not complain about her lower salary as compared to male employees doing similar work.

When she submitted a resignation from her employment, the company, the complaint alleges, commenced a search for a replacement for her, with specific instructions that the new employee to be recruited for replacing her should preferably be a man, not a woman, and certainly not a pregnant woman. Later, at the behest of a senior manager, who promised her an increase in salary and bonuses and that the discrimination in pay she was experiencing would be remedied, she withdrew the resignation.

In July, 2008, when Pai informed the company about her decision to have a second child, she was told by her supervisor that in such case, she would be required to choose between her family and her career at L&T Infotech.

Around that time, there was intense media coverage on the issue of visa fraud by companies in information technology. The U.S. Attorneys' office in New Jersey had indicted several technology companies such as Cygate Software and Vision Systems, and their managers. L&T Infotech commissioned an audit of their immigration records and procedures by Ernst & Young, which submitted its report that revealed significant procedural and substantive shortcomings and documentary discrepancies reflective of widespread visa fraud in L&T's applications to the U.S.

Government for visas on behalf of employees and potential employees.

The complaint alleges that the company made Pai the scapegoat, and blamed her for mistakes and omissions which had been identified by the Ernst & Young audit. In fact, the suit alleges, the company knew well that the mistakes were made by employees in India who processed visa applications for the company.

Pai's distress was compounded when she discovered that on many fabricated documents, her signature had been forged. When she raised this issue with the company, she was advised to stay silent.

In January, 2009, Pai informed the company she was pregnant with her second child. Her workload increased substantially, to the extent that she had to put in grueling 18 hour workdays on a regular basis. When she protested, she was blamed her for being weak. The company attributed that weakness to her pregnancy, and bluntly told her, that she should quit her employment.

She was also asked to specifically backdate and fabricate immigration documents to cover up false statements to the U.S. government. She needed the job at that time, and did not resign, the complaint alleges.

She processed more than 800 visa applications on her own, in New Jersey.

The stress and tension placed upon Pai caused her health to deteriorate significantly. Eventually, she had to be admitted to the emergency room in a local hospital, and was on the verge of miscarriage of the second child.

After delivery of the baby, and when she eventually returned to work, she was demoted, and made her report to a colleague who had, before her maternity leave, been her peer in human resources. She was also made to work longer hours than her male colleagues, and subjected to hostile work conditions.

When she requested that she be permitted use of a room with some privacy in order to pump breast milk thrice a day for feeding her infant child, she was ordered to do so in conference rooms, which were not completely private and had glass openings, and could be seen through by anyone passing through the corridors.

She was also aware of a fraudulent scheme of kickbacks that the company was indulging in, where spouses of senior employees were being paid for applications of visas done through them, says Chittur. She eventually wrote a letter to the chairman of the board of L&T, to which she received a response saying the matter would be looked into, but she says, nothing materialized.

Eventually, the company terminated Pai's employment on June 14, 2010.

What Nanda Pai endured at L&T Infotech is horrible, said Chittur. He reiterated the climate of hostility that culminated in Shanbhag and Pai's unlawful and wrongful termination by defendants on the basis of their sex and pregnancy.  

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