The daughter of an Indian-American head of an IT consulting firm, accused of underpaying her live-in domestic help from India and mistreating her, has said the allegations against her mother were false and baseless.
“There is not a morsel or even a nugget of truth to Sheela’s claims. Her story is complete fiction,” Sabina Bhatia said in a statement.
Himanshu Bhatia, the founder of Rose International, which earned $357 million in 2011, has been charged by the United States labour department of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Bhatia was also accused of subjecting the help, Sheela Ningwal, to “callous abuse” and punishing her for pursuing her rights, according to a complaint filed in a federal court in California on August 22. According to court documents, summons were ordered to be issued to Bhatia the day after the complaint.
Sabina said her mother was “shocked, saddened and betrayed” by the allegations. “My mom and dad — all of us, in fact — treated Sheela like family. She ate with us and socialised with us... My mom even cared and cooked for her when she was sick,” Sabina said.
“The truth is exactly the opposite of what Sheela claims. She is not a victim,” she added. “It is unfortunate that successful business leaders can so easily become the target of such baseless and false allegations.”
Bhatia, who was born in Delhi and went to the School of Planning and Architecture, was named among the 25 top women business leaders in the US by Fast Company web magazine in 2012.
She and her family live in San Juan Capistrano, California, and own “mansions, luxury penthouse condominiums in Las Vegas, Long Beach and Miami”, according to the labour department’s complaint.
Ningwal worked primarily at the family home but also at their other establishments. She was paid a fixed monthly salary of $400, with food and accommodation, regardless of the number of hours of work. The department of labour said this was “grossly below the statutorily mandated minimum wage”.
According to the complaint, Bhatia forced Ningwal to sleep in the garage on a piece of carpet alongside the family’s dogs who slept on a mattress, because she did not want her or her family exposed to Ningwal’s illness.
It also said that the family would “neglect to leave food” for Ningwal, who was dependent on them, when travelling. Her passport was taken from her and given to her only at the time of travel. Ningwal was fired twice in 2014 — once because she was researching “labor laws” online.
The complaint sought the payment of unpaid wages and damages.
This is not the first time an Indian or an Indian-origin American is in trouble over abuse of a domestic help.
In 2013, an Indian Foreign Service officer was arrested in New York for paying the help much lower wages than the amount shown in visa application papers, throwing India-US relations into a major crisis.