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H-1B: San Jose tech firm discriminated against non-Indians, favored visa holders, lawsuit claims

H-1B: San Jose tech firm discriminated against non-Indians, favored visa holders, lawsuit claims

A San Jose subsidiary of an Indian digital-services company favored hiring Indian and South Asian workers for its U.S. jobs, and used the H-1B and another visa to accomplish its discrimination, a new lawsuit seeking class-action status claims. Happiest Minds, which has its U.S. headquarters in San Jose, used visas and discriminatory hiring and firing…

A San Jose subsidiary of an Indian digital-services company favored hiring Indian and South Asian workers for its U.S. jobs, and used the H-1B and another visa to accomplish its discrimination, a new lawsuit seeking class-action status claims.

Happiest Minds, which has its U.S. headquarters in San Jose, used visas and discriminatory hiring and firing practices to fill its ranks with South Asian workers, most of them Indian, the suit alleged. At least 90 percent of the firm’s U.S. workforce is South Asian, while the rate is about 12 percent across this country’s information-technology industry, the suit claimed.

Happiest Minds, which according to the suit employs about 200 workers in the U.S., did not respond to a request for comment on the claims in the suit.

The suit was filed by San Jose sales professional Tami Sulzberg, who said in a court filing that she started at Happiest Minds in January 2018 as a director of business development and was fired about four months later. Sulzberg claims she was replaced by an Indian man who was on an L-1 visa. The L-1 is a non-immigrant work permit for managers or executives transferred into the U.S. from a company’s affiliate office in a foreign country.

The suit also pointed to purported use by Happiest Minds of the controversial H-1B visa, intended for jobs requiring specialized skills. The H-1B, heavily relied upon by Silicon Valley technology firms, which push for an expansion of the annual 85,000 cap on new visas, has become a target for the administration of President Donald Trump. The administration has dramatically boosted denial rates for the visa after reports of abuses by outsourcing companies. Critics of the visa charge that outsourcers and tech companies use it to supplant U.S. workers and drive down wages.

Sulzberg’s suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, alleged that Happiest Minds received 188 new H-1B visas or H-1B visa amendments between 2013 and 2018, plus 12 new L-1 visas in 2018 alone.

“To fulfill its employment preference for South Asians and Indians, Happiest Minds seeks to maximize the number of visas it receives each year from the federal government,” the suit alleged. “All, or substantially all, of the individuals for whom Happiest Minds secures visas are South Asian and Indian.”

Preference in hiring is given to South Asian and Indian workers who can be brought in using a visa, the suit claimed.

“Similarly, non-South Asian and non-Indian individuals are often displaced from their current positions in favor of South Asian and Indian visa-ready individuals,” the suit alleged.

Sulzberg claimed in the suit that she had been the only non-Indian among the approximately 25 salsepeople in Happiest Minds’ U.S. offices. Her purported troubles started during a sales meeting about six weeks after she started at the firm, the suit claimed.

“Ms. Sulzberg was the only female employee at the meeting and the only individual who was non-South Asian and non-Indian,” the suit alleged. “Ms. Sulzberg was excluded by her South Asian colleagues who spoke in Hindi, thereby precluding her from participating in certain conversations, and was specifically asked not to attend the first portionof the meeting involving the whole group.”

During her presentation at the meeting, which was supposed to last an hour, the firm’s South Asian CEO rudely interrupted her, saying he didn’t want to look at her PowerPoint and telling her, ‘Move on, move on,’ before cutting her off after 10 minutes, the suit claimed. The CEO also asked her to book him a hotel room for an upcoming meeting “despite the fact that Ms. Sulzberg’s sales role did not involve such administrative or secretarial responsibilities,” the suit alleged.

The following month, after receiving approval from a senior vice-president to attend a conference in Las Vegas to pursue sales, Sulzberg was told by that executive that the CEO didn’t want her to go, the suit claimed. However, an Indian employee was permitted to attend, the suit alleged.

From shortly after her hiring until she was fired, Sulzberg was evaluated on the basis of how many meetings she obtained, an evaluation standard used at the company for junior salespeople lacking her experience, the suit claimed.

Happiest Minds did hire someone to generate meetings for her, but he went on paternity leave soon after he came on, and didn’t start setting meetings for her until a few weeks before she was terminated, the suit alleged. Despite her lack of help, Sulzberg on her own hit her meetings target, the suit claimed. But less than two months after meeting the requirement, Sulzberg was told her meetings numbers were “below par” and she was ordered to generate two to three meetings per week, the suit alleged. The day after that, she was fired, with the CEO telling her it was for “not having enough meetings,” the suit claimed.

“This excuse was pretextual, as Ms. Sulzberg had many meetings with large companies during her short tenure with the company,” the suit alleged, adding that her prohibition from attending the conference kept her from generating additional meetings.

Four other non-South Asian salespeople were terminated, with one of them replaced by a South Asian man on a visa, the suit claimed. While Happiest Minds fired Sulzberg a few months after hiring her, it retained a South Asian salesman who “did not sell any new business for the company during his first year of employment with Happiest Minds and continues not to meet his sales goals,” the suit claimed. The man had been given a sales portfolio worth more than $400,000, allowing him to generate ongoing revenue from current clients, but “Ms. Sulzberg was not afforded the same benefit,” the suit alleged.

The suit seeks a judge’s approval as a class action, to bring in anyone not of South Asian or Indian origin who applied for jobs at Happiest Minds in the U.S. and weren’t hired, or whom the company involuntarily terminated. It also seeks an order forcing the company to adopt a non-discriminatory method for hiring, firing and other employment-related decisions, plus unspecified damages.

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