Lawsuit alleges discrimination by Harley-Davidson contractor

Publish Date: 
Jul 10, 2014
By Holly J. Wagner

MILWAUKEE, Wis. – Two former contract IT workers at Harley-Davidson are lead plaintiffs in a federal discrimination lawsuit alleging their employer, tech staffing agency Infosys, favored South Asian candidates in hiring, pay and promotions.

The two plaintiffs who worked at the Motor Co., Brenda Koehler and Kelly Parker, are seeking damages from Infosys, not Harley-Davidson, in the suit filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Two others are seeking damages after working for Infosys at other companies. Their attorneys are seeking class action status on behalf of “all individuals who are not of South Asian race or Indian, Bangladeshi, or Nepalese national origin who applied for a position with, or were employed by Defendants, and were discriminated against on the basis of their national origin or race in the last four years through the date of final judgment in this action.”

Infosys has denied wrongdoing and is seeking to have the case thrown out. “Infosys is an equal opportunity employer. We categorically deny Ms. Koehler’s claims. We look forward to addressing this matter in court. It is important to understand that no proof of class action suitability has been presented and no court has ruled that the case is appropriate for class action treatment,” a company spokesperson said.

The claim is that 90 percent of Infosys' 15,000 workers in the United States are South Asian, primarily Indian, as a result of the company’s discrimination against other ethnic groups. “Infosys has engaged in a systematic pattern and practice of discriminating against individuals who are not South Asians in hiring, compensation, promotion, and retention,” the lawsuit claims.

Koehler and Parker’s problems began when Harley-Davidson restructured its IT department in Milwaukee in 2012, eliminating 125 corporate jobs. Harley-Davidson contracted with Infosys to fill the void for five years, after which Infosys announced it would hire 125 employees for the contract.

Koehler alleges she was passed over for a job for which she was qualified in October 2012 in favor of a worker from Bangladesh.

She claims in the lawsuit that she “interviewed with Infosys, and was denied a position in favor of a South Asian worker. Similarly, in 2012, Ms. Parker was contracted to work under the management of Infosys and was providing IT services to Harley-Davidson from Tomahawk, a small town in central Wisconsin,” the complaint states.

Parker started working at Harley-Davidson in Tomahawk in February 2012 as an employee of Enterforce, a temp agency. The following October, the Infosys contract kicked in. In May 2013, Infosys began using SoftHQ, Inc., another staffing agency, for its staffing needs. Parker re-interviewed with SoftHQ for the position she already held, and in June she signed a long-term contract with SoftHQ to provide IT help desk duties at Harley-Davidson, under Infosys’s supervision. In August, she was fired. She claims she was told it was because she had been late to work once and that her desk was “untidy.” Before her departure, she was required to train her replacement, an Indian candidate.

“Ms. Parker was popular within Harley-Davidson (Infosys’s client), and had serviced the client well. Nonetheless, in September 2013, Infosys decided not to hire Ms. Parker permanently and terminated the contract under which Ms. Parker worked in favor of Kapil Kulkarni, a South Asian who Ms. Parker herself had trained and who moved to Tomahawk to replace her,” according to the complaint.

The federal government requires Infosys to report the demographics of its work force at any site in the United States where it employs 50 or more people. According to the lawsuit, the lowest percentage of South Asian workers at any Infosys site is 73.8 percent, regardless of the demographics of the surrounding communities. The lawsuit cites a 2007 survey by the U.S.-based Association of Information Technology Professionals that found that “only 2 percent of the membership was of Asian ethnic origin.”

The complaint alleges that Infosys abuses the H1-B and B-1 visa processes to keep a stable of Indian workers that it can plug into American jobs to keep costs down, even though resident workers are available. The H1-B visa program lets employers import foreign workers to fill jobs when no American residents are available for them. Typically the visas go to workers in tech and engineering fields.

“For example, from 2005 to 2012, Infosys had approximately 14,008 H-1B petitions approved. Of those, approximately 13,861, or 99 percent, of the visa workers came from India. Infosys has then used these visa workers (as well as other South Asian workers) to replace or supplant American (non-South Asian) workers,” the lawsuit states.

In addition, the petition states, “The statistics that Infosys has reported in SEC filings and to the EEOC demonstrate that at least 65 percent of its non-visa employees in the United States are Asian. Upon information and belief, the vast majority of these employees are of South Asian race or Indian, Bangladeshi, or Nepalese national origin.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order barring discrimination, institution of a non-discriminatory hiring system and compensatory damages, on allegations of civil rights violations including disparate treatment and disparate impact.