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Pro-Asian bias? TCS to face US jury over why it fires so many Americans

The trial will cast a spotlight on work-visa programs companies use to bring overseas workers to the US

Robert Burnson & Saritha Rai | Bloomberg 

tcs
TCS

India’s IT outsourcing giant Ltd. needs to offer a good explanation for why engineers hired at its American outposts are 13 times as likely to be fired if they’re not South Asian.

The company is set to go on trial Monday in California over racial discrimination claims by American workers who lost their jobs at offices in the US because they hadn’t been assigned to any of its clients.

The trial will cast a spotlight on work-visa programs use to bring overseas workers to the US, a practice President Donald Trump has criticized in his protectionist push. TCS, Asia’s largest outsourcer, and rival Indian information technology staffing firms Infosys Ltd. and Wipro Ltd. have all been squeezed by the Trump administration to hire more Americans on US soil.

Mumbai-based denies any unlawful bias in its US operations and says in court filings that the Caucasian American leading the lawsuit was removed from one of its projects and ultimately terminated over “performance concerns.” said it can’t comment specifically on the pending litigation, but believes it has a strong case and will prevail at trial.

“Our success is based on our ability to provide the best talent available, both in the US and globally, based purely on the individual’s specialized experience, skills and fit for each client’s specific needs,” a company spokesman said. “TCS also strictly adheres to all federal and state equal employment opportunity laws and regulations.”

The jury is expected to be shown statistical evidence that the odds of race and national origin not being a factor in TCS’s termination decisions are less than one in a billion. That’s because, since 2011, the company fired 12.6 per cent of its non-South Asian workers in the US, compared with less than 1 per cent of its South Asian employees, according to the complaint.

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A unit of the Tata Group, India’s largest industrial conglomerate, TCS employs more than 400,000 people worldwide, is valued at about $100 billion and posted revenue of $19 billion for the fiscal year that ended in March. Most of its revenue comes from the US and its primary customers are in the financial services sector.

Still, these are challenging times for the company that pioneered the India tech services model five decades ago. The outsourcing industry barreled along at 20 per cent-plus growth with little trouble until recently, but easy deals are now gone and customers are looking for price cuts. TCS Chief Executive Officer Rajesh Gopinathan said in a May interview that the industry needs to adapt to seize bigger opportunities than ever.

While TCS has won awards as a top employer in North America, the lawsuit paints a different picture. The case was brought as a class action on behalf of about 1,000 non-South Asians -- most of them US citizens -- who were fired by TCS while on “benched” status, meaning they were laid off by the company while they were between job assignments.

The plaintiffs allege TCS has engaged in a “systematic pattern and practice of discrimination” by favouring Indian ex-pats and visa-ready workers from India for US positions. That has resulted in a workforce that’s almost 80 per cent South Asian, far greater than the 12 per cent representation of South Asians in the US IT workforce, according to the complaint.

Daniel Kotchen, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the aim of the litigation is to stop outsourcing firms from violating US anti-discrimination laws. Kotchen’s firm is suing a half dozen other outsourcing firms over alleged discrimination, including Infosys and Wipro.

“The US has the world’s strongest economy,” he said. “Foreign corporations that seek to profit from our economic strength have to respect the law of our land.’’

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Kotchen said he couldn’t estimate damages the jury may award if it finds that TCS violated US civil rights law. He’s also seeking a court order requiring the company to adopt non-discriminatory practices.

US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland scaled back the case to focus only on allegations about bias in firings, after concluding there was insufficient evidence to back up the claim that TCS discriminated against non-South Asian job applicants. The trial is slated to take about 18 days.

First Published: Mon, November 05 2018. 08:37 IST
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