Outsourcing engagements often start when offshore IT services companies bring in workers, typically on H-1B or L-1 visas, to learn a company's IT processes. Then the work is moved overseas. Molina employees contend that's what happened to them.
James Otto, the attorney representing the Molina employees in the lawsuit, claims that about 200 visa-holding workers have been brought into the company.
Otto has told the former Molina IT workers that such activity is a form of segregation. "Today you're being segregated based on your national origin," he said.
Several years before the layoff, there were about 70 or 80 IT employees at Molina, according to a group of more than a dozen former Molina IT workers who met with Computerworld late last month. Many of the former Molina workers asked that their names not be published.
At that time, Cognizant had a small presence at the firm, mostly to supplement internal work. The employees said they felt no threat at the time. In fact, said Shok, "there was a feeling of camaraderie on the team."
But beginning around 2007 things started to change.
Most of the immediate IT managers were either laid off or quit, according to the employees. At the same time, the number of contractors increased. The lawsuit alleges that Desai and his management team "hire[d] and promote[d] only Indian nationals to management positions."
Desai, through his attorney, says the allegation is false. Of the six IT managers reporting to him, two were of Indian descent, he said.
"My client is dismayed both at the false allegations in Mr. Otto's lawsuit and its ethnically inflammatory undertone suggesting that Mr. Desai is biased against Americans and favors Indians solely because he is 'of Indian descent,' " wrote Desai's attorney, Edward Raskin in an email to Computerworld.
Raskin also points out that Desai was born in the U.S. and graduated from a U.S. university. He says the lawsuit avoids certain facts. "For example, some of the employees who lost their jobs at Molina were 'of Indian descent,' which contradicts Mr. Otto's suggestion that Mr. Desai and the company only favored Indians," he said.
But from the perspective of the employees, the workplace was changing.
The IT staff had been diverse, and represented seemingly every nationality, much like the population of Long Beach, Calif., where Molina is based.
The employees said they liked working at Molina, and felt they were recognized for their work, supported on the job, and were also part of a friendly environment that marked holidays with events like potluck dinners.
But the corporate culture changed as the contractors were added. The holiday potluck dinners ended while Indian workers were taken out to lunch on a major India holiday, the former Molina employees said.
Some meetings became so dominated by Indian workers that the discussions would sometimes shift to an Indian language, which added to a growing sense of isolation among the other Molina IT employees, the workers said.
"I've been to several meetings where it started off in English and then one of the Indian directors would start talking in Hindi, and then all the other Indians will start talking in the same language," said a plaintiff who asked to remain anonymous. "And then you would have to say 'hello, hello, we don't understand.'"
The HR manager who had been hired to manage the IT layoffs recalled an initial visit to the IT department. "When I walked in the IT department, all I saw were Indians. It was very difficult to find anybody in the immediate environment that was of non-Indian descent."
The former HR manager said the makeup of the department "was also a reflection of the leadership team ... the majority of [Desai's] direct reports were Indian."