U.S. court rejects “reverse-discrimination” class-action lawsuit against HCL

A U.S. court made its decision regarding the “reverse-discrimination” Handloser v. HCL Technologies case in which plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit against HCL alleging unfair hiring practices that favoured foreign India visa-holders over U.S. citizens.

The court ruled that the claimants did not meet the criteria for the basis of their suit against HCL. However, this does not imply that the company is beyond reproach. The case can be further appealed in the future.

This case is significant for the following reasons. First, it indicates that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the 2011 Wal-Mart v. Dukes case will remain a primary defence in such reverse discrimination suits. i.e., suppose plaintiffs try to increase the size of their case by using several putative class-action members who were allegedly harmed by managers. In that case, employers can refer to the prior Wal-Mart v. Dukes case to explain why class treatment is not appropriate in such cases.

Second, businesses, particularly in the technology sector, facing reverse discrimination charges that allege foreign visa-holders being given preferential treatment over U.S. citizens, can now use this recent decision if faced with such similar class-action claims.

For this case at hand, the defendant was HCL Technologies. The company is an Indian IT company, with its headquarters in Noida, India, and its U.S. headquarters in Sunnyvale, California. The plaintiffs were a group of U.S. job applicants who did not secure positions at the company. They claimed that the company screened applicants through a “culture-fit interview” during the hiring process. This resulted in giving foreign-visa holders preferential treatment over U.S. citizens. 

As per the plaintiffs, the “culture-fit interview” process was a pretense for screening out non-Indian U.S. citizen-candidates. They further alleged that HCL employed a uniform company-wide policy that prioritized candidates for open on-site positions giving primary consideration to visa-holding Indian candidates and only considered U.S.-citizen candidates if the former were not available.

On March 7, 2019, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against HCL alleging 3 claims including 

1)discriminatory treatment on the basis of race and citizenship in violation of U.S. code 1981;

 2) discriminatory treatment on the basis of race and national origin in violation of U.S. code 2000; and 

3) discriminatory impact on the basis of race and national origin in violation of U.S. code 2000.

The problem arose when the plaintiffs moved for class-action certification to represent a class of, “[a]ll individuals who are not of South Asian race, or Indian national origin, or visa holders who applied for positions with (or within) the company in the U.S. and were not hired.”

The court ultimately decided to deny the plaintiffs’ motion for class-action certification stating that they failed to establish class-action “commonality” under the 2011 Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes case. It explained that in the context of an employment discrimination class-action case, the plaintiffs seeking the class-action status involving a large number of individual employment decisions must first establish “some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together” to satisfy the class-action “commonality” requirement.

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