Infosys ex-employee cries bias over not knowing Hindi

Layla Bolten claims she was harassed by colleagues; sues firm in US; company says charges are 'false and baseless'


In yet another instance of a former American employee alleging harassment at Infosys Technologies, one Layla Bolten has sued the Bangalore-headquartered information technology firm in that country. She has claimed she was discriminated against by colleagues, mostly Indians, as she could not speak in Hindi.

Bolten, said to be an "experienced tester", has filed a lawsuit in a US federal court claiming harassment while she was working on a project to develop the health benefit exchange system, a key feature of the Affordable Care Act (ACT), or Obamacare, for the District of Columbia.

In June last year, Infosys Public Services, a subsidiary of Infosys in the US, had bagged this $49.5-million contract from the District of Columbia. The contract included designing and building the IT infrastructure to support the Washington DC Health Benefit Exchange, an online shopping centre for health insurance created under ACT.

In her civil lawsuit, filed late last year, Bolten has claimed she was harassed because she was not Indian and excluded from work-related conversations by supervisors, who spoke in Hindi. Bolten has also claimed that people with less experience than her were promoted ahead of her; this is why she eventually quit Infosys. According to the lawsuit, Bolten has said Infosys brought in H-1B visa holders to work on the ACT project, which had around 100 employees, including three Americans.

According to global media reports, Infosys has filed a motion for dismissal on this suit on a number of technical and legal grounds and is awaiting a ruling from the judge. Approached by Business Standard, a spokesperson for the company denied Bolten's claims and called those "false and baseless".

"Infosys is an equal-opportunity employer. Ms Bolten has made various false and baseless allegations and we categorically deny her claims," an Infosys spokesperson said over email. "We have filed a motion in court to dismiss her complaint by refuting all her allegations and we expect to prevail."

In the past couple of years, Infosys has faced several allegations by its American employees, as well as job seekers - from alleged visa misuse to discrimination because of their nationalilty and race.

Feb: Jack Palmer, then an Infosys employee, files a lawsuit in an Albama court, alleging the firm misused the B-1 business visa programme to bring Indian employees to the US to work at client sites
May: Infosys receives a summon from a jury in the US District Court for the District of Texas, asking the company for certain details about the B1 business visa usage
Jun: Infosys requests the Alabama Federal Court to have the Palmer case decided by an arbitrator instead of a jury
Nov: Federal Court rejects plea
Aug: US district court dismisses the suit after reviewing the summary-judgment motion filed by Infosys; says the judge found “no basis to support any of the charges filed by Palmer”
Aug: Brenda Koehler, a Wisconsin-based IT professional and a prospective candidate files a lawsuit, alleging Infosys discriminated against the US job seekers in favour of South Asian candidates
Oct: Infosys pays $34 million for civil settlement with the US Attorney’s Office for Texas to resolve all issues with the US Department of State, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and US Department of Homeland Security
July: Jack Palmer files a fresh
complaint, alleging Infosys and eight of its senior executives denied him work, bonuses & promotions and later terminated him

Earlier this month, Jack Palmer, a former employee who had three years ago triggered a probe by US authorities into Infosys' visa practices, filed a fresh complaint against the company and some of its executives. In the new complaint with the US Department of Labor in May, Palmer alleged Infosys and eight of its executives denied him work, bonuses and promotions and later terminated him.

Three years ago, too, Palmer had sued Infosys in an Alabama state court accusing the company of harassment and breach of contract after he raised concerns about possible visa violations by the firm.

That case was subsequently dismissed by a US district judge court on the ground there was "no basis to support any of the charges filed by Palmer".

Additionally, in an interesting development in August last year, a prospective American candidate had filed a lawsuit against Infosys after failing to qualify for a job, alleging the company had discriminated against the US job applicants in favour of candidates from South Asia. In the lawsuit filed in a US District Court, Brenda Koehler, a Wisconsin-based IT professional with about 17 years of experience alleged Infosys ignored her qualifications and eventually hired a Bangladeshi worker to fill a position she was qualified for.

Last year, Infosys had paid $34 million (Rs 204 crore) for civil settlement of a US visa misuse case. Despite the hefty payment, the company was asked by the US authorities to retain an independent third-party auditor at its expense to review its visa compliance until 2015. The independent auditor would be responsible for annually reviewing and reporting on Infosys' compliance with Form I-9, a type of employee documentation. These reports would be given to the US attorney, Infosys had said in its annual report for 2013-14.

Infosys is one of the leading users of H-1B visa programme in the US, the largest market for the company. In the quarter ended June 30, North America accounted for close to 61 per cent of its overall revenue.