Washington, Feb. 16: A class action suit filed against Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) by one of its employees in California has opened the way for a flood of similar action by tens of thousands of Indians working in the US in the computer industry, healthcare and teaching on temporary visas.
The class action suit against TCS, initiated by Gopi Vedachalam, alleges that the company systematically pocketed federal and state tax refunds meant for him over a five-year period from 2000.
If the case is certified as a class action by San Francisco’s federal district court, Vedachalam’s attorney will seek to represent all TCS employees in California affected by the practice.
TCS has about 10,000 employees all across the US and has lately been a prime target for American lobbies campaigning against outsourcing of US jobs and against H-1 and L-1 visas that allow companies to bring in temporary workers and to transfer their overseas workers for short periods to America.
TCS also provides temporary employees to information technology giants in the US on a regular basis.
Vedachalam’s petition alleges that TCS extracted tax refunds only from temporary employees like him and not from US citizens, who work for the company.
It also alleges that TCS did not pay its employees who are non-Americans for earned leave that they did not use and could not carry over to the following year.
The company’s practice has been to give its employees 15 days’ leave in a year, of which, they could carry over five unused days into the following year.
Vedachalam alleges that US citizens could encash the unused days, but non-US citizens had to forfeit their leave salary.
California law allows employees to receive pay for earned leave, which is not utilised.
TCS has said it is yet to receive any notice about the case and is, therefore, unable to respond to allegations made by the employee.
But its officials, quoted in the Bay Area media, expressed surprise about the allegation because the company has been legally advised that it is fully complying with federal and state laws that apply to states where it has operations.
However, it is common for companies in the US to bring in temporary workers and exploit them once they are at the mercy of employers for their stay in the US. Such employers are known derisively here as “body shops”.
Vedachalam was transferred from the Bangalore office of TCS to San Francisco and he earns about $50,000 a year.
He has been assigned by TCS to its client firms such as Target and now works as a project manager for another TCS client, 21st Century Insurance in southern California.
Representing Vedachalam in this case is Steven M. Tindall, an attorney who specialises in employment law.
He is seeking to represent all TCS employees who are non-US citizens, who have worked for the company since February 2000 and have grievances related to tax refunds.
In the case of vacation wages, Tindall is seeking to represent TCS employees who have grievances since February 2002.
The case will be watched closely by US lawyers and those opposed to temporary alien workers because a victory in this class action can open up similar class action against thousands of companies, which exploit temporary workers.