The lawsuits represent the first time Americans have gone to federal court to sue both outsourcing companies that imported immigrants and the U.S. company that contracted with those businesses, claiming that they collaborated to supplant Americans with H-1B workers.
Even after Leo Perrero was laid off a year ago at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. — and spent his final months there training a temporary immigrant from India to do his technology job — he still hoped to find work at the vast entertainment company.
But Perrero discovered that despite his high performance ratings, he and most of the other 250 tech workers dismissed would not be rehired for at least a year, and probably never.
Now he and Dena Moore, another American laid off at that time, have filed class-action lawsuits in federal court in Tampa against Disney and two global consulting companies, HCL and Cognizant, which brought in foreign workers who replaced them. They claim the companies colluded to break the law by using temporary H-1B visas to bring in immigrant workers, knowing Americans would be displaced from their jobs.
“I don’t have to be angry or cause drama,” said Moore, 53, who had worked at Disney for 10 years. “But they are just doing things to save a buck, and it’s making Americans poor.”
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Moore had also trained her replacement. After she was laid off, she applied for more than 150 other jobs at Disney without success.
The lawsuits by Perrero and Moore, who each filed a separate but similar class-action complaint Monday, represent the first time Americans have gone to federal court to sue both outsourcing companies that imported immigrants and the U.S. company that contracted with those businesses, claiming they collaborated intentionally to supplant Americans with H-1B workers.
A furor over the layoffs in Orlando last January brought to light many other episodes in which U.S. workers, mainly in technology but also in accounting and administration, said they had lost jobs to foreigners on H-1B visas, and had to train replacements as a condition of their severance.
The foreign workers, mostly from India, were provided by outsourcing companies, including the two named in the lawsuits, which have dominated the H-1B visa system, packing the application process to win an outsize share of the quota set by Congress of 85,000 visas each year.
The Labor Department opened investigations of the outsourcing companies — the direct employers of the immigrants — at Disney and at Southern California Edison, a utility that laid off hundreds of U.S. workers in 2014. The investigations are continuing.
At least 30 former Disney workers also filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming they faced discrimination as U.S. citizens.
The lawsuits by Perrero and Moore are based on the rules for H-1B visas, which were designed by to bring foreign workers with special skills into the country. Employers are required to declare to the Department of Labor that hiring foreigners on the visas “will not adversely affect the working conditions of U.S. workers similarly employed.”
“Was I negatively affected?” Moore asked. “Yeah, I was. I lost my job.”
Sara Blackwell, a lawyer in Sarasota representing the former Disney employees, said the suit alleges the companies lied under oath when they said no Americans would lose their jobs.
Disney has vigorously denied any violations, saying it requires its contractors to obey all laws. Disney has said all but 95 of the tech workers laid off in Orlando were rehired to other positions or moved on voluntarily. Last year, it canceled 35 layoffs scheduled in other areas of the company.
HCL and Cognizant have said they carefully comply with U.S. laws. Cognizant has said it employs many thousands of Americans in this country, with H-1B workers only a minority of its labor force.
Perrero, like many Americans who have lost their jobs, said he was long reluctant to speak out publicly against his former employer. At 42 and with a family to support, he worried he would not find another job in Orlando, where Disney rules as the largest employer by far. He spoke with The New York Times anonymously in an article in June about the humiliation of training his foreign replacement.
But local recruiters told him that despite the company’s statements, Disney managers said they would avoid rehiring workers who were laid off. Perrero said he knew of only two workers from the close-knit group of more than 200 who were dismissed who went back to tech jobs at Disney.