The federal government settled a massive visa and immigration fraud claim against an Indian company in 2013, after a lengthy investigation. United States v. Infosys Limited, No. 4:13-cv-00634, settlement agreement (E.D. Tex., Oct. 30, 2013). The investigation began when a U.S.-based employee reported evidence of fraud involving H-1B guest worker visas and B-1 business visas to federal authorities. The employee alleges that the company retaliated against him for reporting his suspicions, including demotion, harassment, hostile work environment, termination, and refusal to rehire. His lawsuit, initially filed in New Jersey, claims violations of the whistleblower protection provisions of the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Palmer v. Infosys Limited, No. 3:14-cv-06122, complaint (D.N.J., Oct. 2, 2014), transferred to No. 6:14-cv-00905 (E.D. Tex., Dec. 8, 2014).
The defendant is a technology and consulting business based in Bangalore, India, which provides services to numerous U.S. tech companies. It petitions for temporary work visas on behalf of workers in India. Workers in “specialty occupations” may come to the U.S. on an H-1B visa. To qualify, a worker must have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and he or she must have a job offer from a U.S. employer for a position that requires a degree or certain specialized skills. Federal law limits the number of new H-1B visas to 65,000 per year, so the field is competitive.
The plaintiff attended meetings in Bangalore in March 2010 in which managers allegedly “discussed the need to and ways to ‘creatively’ get around” H-1B program restrictions. Palmer, complaint at 11. He alleges that he was instructed to prepare “welcome letters” for people coming to the U.S. on B-1 visas for short-term business purposes, but that these people were actually coming to the U.S. for jobs requiring an H-1B visa. The plaintiff filed an internal whistleblower complaint with the defendant in October 2010, and he eventually reported the matter to multiple federal agencies and members of Congress.
The federal government ultimately concluded that it had sufficient grounds to bring a civil action under the FCA for “knowingly present[ing]…false or fraudulent claim[s] for payment or approval.” 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(A). The defendant agreed to settle for $34 million, with no admission of liability. The settlement agreement stated, however, that the government believed it could bring additional claims, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, false statements, visa fraud, and immigration employment violations. 18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 1001, 1546; 8 U.S.C. § 1324a.
The plaintiff claims that he received an anonymous, late-night phone call shortly after filing the internal complaint, which called him a “stupid American.” Palmer, complaint at 17. He was allegedly denied his usual annual bonus in December 2010, and he received “multiple death threats.” Id. at 18. In April 2011, he claims the defendant “remov[ed] him from all active assignments.” Id. It allegedly stripped the plaintiff of duties and responsibilities over time, demanded his resignation in November 2013, and constructively discharged him.
Since November 2013, the defendant has allegedly repeatedly refused to rehire the plaintiff. He filed suit in New Jersey, where one of the defendant’s executives resided, in October 2014, but the case was transferred to the same district as the FCA proceeding in December. The lawsuit alleges violations of the whistleblower protection provisions of the FCA and Sarbanes-Oxley. 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h), 18 U.S.C. § 1514A.
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