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By Laura D. Francis
Jan. 26 — Walt Disney World and Cognizant Technology Solutions conspired to fire hundreds of U.S. information technology workers and replace them with foreign workers on H-1B visas, according to a lawsuit filed Jan. 25.
The proposed class action filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida by former Disney workers claims that Disney had a contract with Cognizant to supply H-1B contract workers. Yet Cognizant fraudulently attested in applications filed with the Labor Department that U.S. workers wouldn't be displaced by its hiring of H-1B highly skilled guestworkers, in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the complaint said.
Claims that U.S. workers at Disney and Southern California Edison were being displaced by H-1B contract workers stirred up the immigration debate in 2015 as employers clamored for the limited number of H-1B visas. Prominent lawmakers such as Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) for years have called for greater protections for U.S. workers as a condition to any increase in annual visa numbers (218 DLR A-5, 11/12/15).
Durbin, the Senate's minority whip, and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, in April called for multi-agency investigations into the Southern California Edison claims (69 DLR A-6, 4/10/15). But the DOL later concluded that Infosys—one of the IT employment firms that supplied the H-1B workers—didn't break any laws (174 DLR A-8, 9/9/15).
Former heads of the Justice Department's Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices suggested during a congressional staff briefing in September that the displaced U.S. workers also could have valid citizenship status discrimination claims (188 DLR A-14, 9/29/15).
In a December technical assistance letter, the OSC itself confirmed that such a practice could give rise to discrimination charges (248 DLR A-6, 12/29/15).
The Jan. 25 lawsuit seeks to represent: “All American individuals who were employed by Disney who were terminated and immediately replaced by foreign workers who were H1B visaholders and whom Cognizant falsely certified on ETA Forms 750(A) 750(B) and 9035 and 9035E that the working conditions of similarly situated employees would not be adversely affected and/or that the job opportunity is open to any qualified U.S. worker when Cognizant knew, consciously avoided the fact, and/or conspired with Disney that Disney would adversely affect similarly situated employees and displace such workers and immediately replace them with H1B visaholders.”
According to the complaint, some 200 to 300 U.S.-born Disney workers were told that they were going to be terminated but would have to train their H-1B replacements in order to receive a bonus and severance. Disney allegedly told the workers there were other job openings for them, but only a few were rehired, the complaint alleged.
Some workers even were told they were “blackballed” from being rehired by Disney for at least a year, the complaint added.
The complaint claims that the scheme was orchestrated by Tilak Mandadi, Disney's senior vice president, chief information officer and global principal tech officer. Citing Mandadi's LinkedIn page, the complaint said his employment history suggests that other companies—including American Express, FedEx, Dell and Enron—engaged in similar schemes to displace U.S. workers with H-1B workers while he was in a senior management position there.
In addition to the federal RICO claim, the complaint also brings a claim for common-law conspiracy.
Representatives for Disney and Cognizant weren't immediately available for comment.
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