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Indian IT Firm to Face Discrimination Claims

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge ruled that claims an Indian consulting company is racially discriminatory in hiring its U.S. workforce may proceed in court.

Lead plaintiff Steven Heldt sued Tata Consultancy Services - headquartered in Mumbai and one of the largest IT employers in the world - in April, alleging that the company hires South Asian workers on visas for 95 percent of its workforce.

Heldt named three methods of discrimination against non-South Asian workers in the complaint, claiming that Tata uses the visa process to sponsor a high number of South Asian workers with H-1B, L-1 and B-1 visas; hires a disproportionate number of South Asian workers who reside in the United States with a discriminatory preference; and discriminates against its non-South Asian employees in employment decisions.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers refused Tata's motion to dismiss the claims and strike some of Heldt's allegations Friday, finding that the company's arguments were out of keeping with the plaintiffs' allegations.

Addressing Tata's argument that "a showing must be made that the potential visa holder will not displace an American worker," Rogers said the "suggestion is tenuous at best."

"Tata's attempt to recast the first amended complaint as a bald attack on its business model is the result of a skewed reading of the first amended complaint," she wrote in the ruling.

She said the complaint "has sufficient allegations of discriminatory conduct to put Tata on notice of the basis for the claim."

Rogers also rejected Tata's argument that the court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the claims related to its use of the visa programs, since Tata only cited cases addressing subject matter jurisdiction where the plaintiffs' claims were "based on the misuse of the visa process." (Italics in ruling.)

Nor can Tata reasonably argue that Heldt lacks standing, Rogers said, because nothing more than his current allegations are required to maintain his cause of action for discrimination.

Rogers then addressed Tata's motion to strike certain allegations, finding that "even a cursory review" of the company's arguments "show they are nothing more than substantive attacks on plaintiffs' allegations" and are therefore not appropriate for resolution on a motion to strike.

And responding to Tata's claim that some of the plaintiffs' cited statistical data was irrelevant, Rogers said that "it is quite obvious" that the data "may be relevant to describe, at a minimum, the defendant's practices."

She ordered the plaintiffs to file a second amended complaint by Sept. 28, clarifying the scope of the persons included in the proposed class; whether the causes of action allege discrimination on the basis of race, national origin or both; and the plaintiffs' disavowal that they allege any misuse or abuse of the visa programs.

Neither side could be immediately reached for comment on Monday.

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