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Laid-Off Visa Workers|Sue Wells Fargo

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Wells Fargo laid off H-1B visa workers and denied them tens of thousands of dollars in severance benefits by falsely claiming the workers had resigned, a worker claims in a federal class action.

Lead plaintiff Vinay Karamsetty, a web developer, claims Wells Fargo owes him $42,415 plus interest. He claims Wells Fargo, the nation's second-largest bank, executed its unfair scheme "due to the economic climate and Wells Fargo's merger with Wachovia Bank," and that the bank admitted as much in its layoff notices.

Karamsetty, whom Wells Fargo hired in 2007, claims the bank violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act by denying "employee benefits under an employee benefit plan regulated and governed by ERISA."

He says the bank also violated its own Wells Fargo Co. Salary Continuation Pay Plan, which also is named as a defendant.

The complaint states: "In April 2009, Wells Fargo made a company-wide decision to not renew any H-1B visas due to the economic climate and Wells Fargo's merger with Wachovia Bank. "As soon as an employee's H-1B visa expires, he loses lawful immigration status and is required to leave the United States Immediately."

In doing so, Karamsetty says, "Wells Fargo explained that it made a business decision to displace all H-1B visa holders due to 'the current economic climate and the merger with Wachovia.'"

Wells Fargo knew the laid-off workers would have to find another job immediately or leave the country, and by mischaracterizing their termination as "voluntary," it denied them severance benefits, Karamsetty claims.

"Wells Fargo exploited this predicament by denying H-1B visa holders any benefits under the plan under the guise that they 'voluntarily' terminated their employment and were thus ineligible for benefits under the plan," the complaint states. "This position was concocted and implemented by a plan administrator with an undisputed conflict of interest, both as a Wells Fargo employee and fellow plan participant."

Karamsetty claims Wells Fargo hired the visa workers with promises that they would get severance payments, based on years worked, if they were "displaced" for "business reasons," or subjected to "position elimination."

Karamsetty says he and the class are owed benefits under those terms.

"In April 2009, Karamsetty and the class members suffered a 'position elimination' under the terms of the plan and became entitled to plan benefits," the complaint states.

Karamsetty says that under the plan, he "was, and still is, entitled to a lump sum of $42,415.34, plus interest," since his last day of work, March 1, 2010.

He seeks class damages and costs for ERISA violations and discrimination.

He is represented by Allison Goddard with the Patterson Law Group.

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