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No anti-American bias, says California jury on TCS hiring process

TCS is one of several Indian companies facing legal challenges in US courts accused of discriminating against local employees and displacing local workers with those from India, brought on a temporary work programme for skilled technical workers, H-1B.

world Updated: Nov 29, 2018 23:59 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
TCS,anti-American bias,California jury
A jury in California has cleared Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) of anti-American bias in its hiring policies in the US  (File Photo)(Reuters)

In a major boost for Indian outsourcing companies, a California jury on Wednesday cleared Tata Consultancy Services Ltd (TCS) of anti-American bias in hiring employees for its sprawling operations in several US states.

The jury in a federal court in California returned “No” verdicts to the two questions before them: whether Tata Consultancy Services had benched and terminated non-Asian employees on the basis of race and if non-Indian employees were benched and fired for the same reason.

“We have always maintained, the claims made in this case were baseless and we are gratified that the jury agreed,” a TCS spokesperson said in a statement, adding, “Irrespective of their background or national origin, we will continue to invest in our people, provide ongoing digital training and empower them to succeed at TCS and, more importantly, enable our customers’ success.”

TCS is one of several Indian companies facing legal challenges in US courts, being accused of discriminating against local employees and displacing local workers with those from India brought on a temporary work programme for skilled technical workers, H-1B. Indian companies and Indians have been the largest beneficiaries of this programme, cornering an estimate 70% of the annual quota of 85,000. And they have also faced, as a result, bipartisan political backlash.

The Trump administration, in fact, has vowed to make it harder for US companies to bring foreign workers under this programme under the president’s overarching “Buy American, Hire America”. It has changed rules and increased scrutiny to prevent alleged fraud and abuse to ensure Americans have the first shot at these jobs. Since President Donald Trump took office, Indian IT companies have ramped up their local hiring, with some of them hovering around the 50% mark.

There are other legal challenges facing work programmes related to H-1B. Such as a 2015 measure that grants work authorization to spouses of H-1B visa holders who have been cleared for Green Card. The wait for Indians stretches for decades because of a mounting backlog.

And legislation action aimed at clearing that backlog, by removing country-cap on number of Green Cards to be issued every year, has lingered in US Congress for years, despite bipartisan support.

Steven Held, the complainant, is a fired TCS employee. He had alleged in a court filing in 2015, when the case started, that 95% of the company’s workforce in the United States were South Asians, and a majority of them from India, and it actively discriminated against the few employees that it hired locally.

TCS used visa programmes such as H-1B and L-1 (for intra-company transfer from overseas branches); local hires who were also mostly South Asians; and, three, the company “disfavored” the few that it hired locally “in its employment decisions, including, for example, in placement, promotion/demotion, and termination decisions”, he alleged.

The complaint was joined by other “similarly situated individuals” — Brian Buchanan, and Christopher Slaight — and turned into a class action case. Buchanan was employed with Souther California Edison, a public utility company, and has alleged he was displaced when the company outsourced work to TCS. And Slaight was hired by a Tata Group company and trained in Chennai among other places, but has alleged he was never given work, and “was benched” in discriminatory action.

TCS countered the allegation and it has now been cleared by the jury, which is expected to set a precedent for such cases, unless it was overturned by a higher court. There was no word from the complainants if they proposed to challenge the verdict.

First Published: Nov 29, 2018 23:16 IST