Why is Infosys facing a ‘culture of bias’ lawsuit in the US?
Bengaluru-headquartered Infosys is facing a lawsuit in the United States by a former employee who has alleged that the IT giant discriminated against job applicants based on their age, gender, nationality, and caregiver status.
Jill Prejean, a former Vice President for Talent Acquisition at Infosys, has alleged that she “consistently heard from at least a dozen partners, to her shock, that they preferred not to hire additional consultants of Indian national origin, that they wanted women without children at home, and candidates not approaching 50”.
“These preferences were open and notorious and seemed to be the company culture,” the lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in September 2021, said.
On September 30 this year, the court rejected Infosys’s motion to dismiss Prejean’s suit of retaliatory termination and a hostile work environment, and asked the defendants to submit a response within 21 days. Infosys has not issued a media statement on the case.
What is the lawsuit about?
Prejean was hired by Infosys in 2018, when she was 59 years old, and tasked with recruiting executives at the partner and the vice president levels for the company’s $1-billion consulting division.
Prejean has said that after joining, “she was shocked to find a rampant culture of illegal discriminatory animus among the partner level executives based on age, gender and caregiver status”.
She has claimed that she told the company’s partners of the prejudicial and discriminatory hiring process and that she would not act upon them. Her refusal was allegedly met with hostility by former partners Jerry Kurtz and Dan Albright, “who became hostile in the face of her objections and sought to circumvent her authority in order to evade compliance with the law”.
In December 2018, Mark Livingston joined Infosys as a Senior Vice President and became Prejean’s day-to-day supervisor. He told her not to recruit women “with children at home” and candidates “approaching or over 50”, says the lawsuit.
After she opposed his discriminatory orders, which she reiterated were illegal, Prejean alleges that Livingston attempted to bully her, stating that she would be removed and her position outsourced to a vendor that would have no problem violating the law.
The lawsuit alleges that in the following months, Kurtz, Albright and Livingston “engaged in a concerted campaign of harassment, intimidation, and threats to Plaintiff and her job”, since she refused to comply with their demands.
What happened after that?
Early in 2019, Prejean put forward a recommendation to hire a female candidate called Ms. Thakur whom interviewers had seen as being fit for the job, according to the lawsuit.
Livingston, however, allegedly asked the opinion of a male executive whom Thakur had once supervised, who allegedly told him that Thakur was not “liked” by the executive because she had once corrected him.
This resulted in Livingston refusing to hire her as an executive because he did not want someone “who is not liked on the team”, according to the lawsuit.
Prejean made a formal complaint to HR on the grounds that there was gender disrimination against a woman candidate. Shortly afterward, she was removed from her position.
Prejean alleged that she was wrongfully terminated, not for her job performance, but because of her unwillingness to discriminate against women candidates or those over the age of 50, and her filing of a complaint about the discriminatory treatment of Thakur by Livingston.
Is this lawsuit unusual?
In 2021, Infosys had faced a similar lawsuit. Four women who had worked in Infosys’s offices in the US had previously filed a complaint at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that the tech giant routinely discriminated against women and non-Indian employees.
An executive at the company had reportedly said that men were given more profitable assignments since they “have families to support”, while women “have husbands to support them”.
In a separate lawsuit, IT company Wipro was hit with an employment discrimination lawsuit in the US in 2020 by five of its former employees. The lawsuit claimed that Wipro operated under a general policy of discrimination against people who are not South Asian or Indian national- origin, in hiring, promotion, termination and employment decisions.
Also in 2020, in the first US lawsuit about alleged casteism in the workplace, California’s regulators sued the tech firm Cisco, after a Dalit employee claimed that he faced caste-base discrimination by his upper-caste supervisors.