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Cognizant, HCL Named In Disney H-1B Visa Worker Suits

Michael Novinson
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Two outsourcing giants were sued Monday and accused of conspiring with Walt Disney World to replace American workers with foreigners on temporary visas.

A federal lawsuit filed by two ex-Disney workers claims that Teaneck, N.J.-based Cognizant, No. 8 on the CRN Solution Provider 500, and Noida, India-based HCL Technologies violated laws relating to the H-1B skilled-worker visa program by enabling Disney to displace U.S. workers.

"Over the past two years, hundreds of American Disney workers were fired from their positions with their companies and were immediately replaced by Cognizant H-1B workers with the specific knowledge of Cognizant," Sara Blackwell, attorney for ex-Disney worker Dena Moore, wrote in a U.S. District Court complaint filed in Tampa, Fla.

[Related: Boosting U.S. IT Skills Or Replacing U.S. Workers? H-1B Visas In The Crosshairs]

Blackwell filed a near-identical lawsuit on behalf of Leo Perrero, another Orlando, Fla.-based ex-Disney worker, who claimed he was replaced by an H-1B employee brought over by HCL. Blackwell is seeking class-action status for all 200 to 300 Disney employees who were terminated and replaced by H-1B visa holders certified by Cognizant or HCL.

Blackwell said Cognizant and HCL misrepresented the nature of the employment for their H-1B visa holders in order to bring workers over who could be leased or contracted with Disney.

’Cognizant knew, or consciously avoided the fact, the jobs for which their H-1B employees would be filling were already filled with qualified American citizens,’ Blackwell wrote as part of the description of the racketeering acts.

The suits claim Disney told Moore and Perrero in October 2014 that they either had to train their replacements or lose their bonus and severance once their jobs were eliminated Jan. 30, 2015. Some terminated employees said they were blackballed from working at Disney for at least a year, with Moore claiming Disney management told her that jobs she applied for were open only to H-1B visa holders.

Disney disputes this claim, saying that Moore was offered another position in the company at comparable pay.

The suit also claims that only a couple of the employees fired in January 2015 were rehired, with the Cognizant- and HCL-sponsored H-1B visa holders telling the terminated Disney employees that they would not be rehired; Disney, though, said more than 100 of the affected workers were rehired.

"These lawsuits are based on unsustainable legal theory and are a wholesale misrepresentation of the facts," Disney said in a statement.

Similarly, Cognizant said it works with immigration law firms to remain current on best practices and periodically brings in a legal adviser to audit the company's immigration compliance.

"We have a robust internal compliance team that ensures our practices are not merely complaint with existing laws in letter and spirit, but also adhere to best practices," the company said in a statement.

HCL did not respond to a request for comment.

HCL submitted 3,763 H-1B applications in the first half of 2015 and 4,749 applications for H-1B visas in all of 2014, the sixth-highest figure among solution providers, according to the Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC). Nearly 125 -- or 2.6 percent -- of the 2014 applications were submitted for jobs in Florida.

HCL’s median salary for H-1B workers in 2014 was $70,304, the seventh-lowest among the 40 biggest channel users of the skilled worker visa program. Computer programmers, computer lab technicians and computer systems analysts made up the top occupations, according to the OFLC.

Cognizant submitted 441 H-1B applications in the first half of 2015 and 2,358 applications in all of 2014, the seventh-highest figure among solution providers, according to OFLC data. About 90 -- or 3.8 percent -- of the 2014 applications were submitted for jobs in Florida.

Cognizant’s median salary for H-1B workers in 2014 was $67,600, tied for the fifth-lowest among the 40 top channel users of the program. Nearly 95 percent of the applications were for computer systems analysts, the OFLC found.

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