By Patrick Thibodeau
November 23, 2015
At least 23 former Disney IT workers have filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) over the loss of their jobs to foreign replacements. This federal filing is a first step to filing a lawsuit alleging discrimination.
These employees are arguing that they are victims of national origin discrimination, a complaint increasingly raised by U.S. workers who have lost their jobs to foreign workers on H-1B and other temporary visas.
Sara Blackwell, the Florida attorney representing the workers, says the deadline for Disney employees terminated on Jan. 30 for filing EEOC actions is Thursday.
These employees are making discrimination claims with the EEO under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, citing in part "hostile treatment in forcing the Americans to train their replacements." The claims include discrimination based on national origin and age.
A Disney spokeswoman, Jacquee Wahler, in an email response to the EEOC claims, said: "We comply with all applicable employment laws. We are expanding our IT department and adding more jobs for U.S. IT workers."
Disney's layoff last January followed agreements with IT services contractors that use foreign labor, mostly from India. Some former Disney workers have begun to go public over the displacement process.
In the ongoing conflict over U.S. worker displacements, this may well be the largest number of people to take action in this manner. "I'm hoping that it signifies that American workers are being brave and standing up and doing something about it," said Blackwell.
The EEOC investigates claims of discrimination, and has the option of bringing its own lawsuit. The commission typically issues a right-to-sue letter, with the next step being a lawsuit.
Separately, Blackwell said, Disney workers are also claiming violation of Florida's discrimination laws. Employees have until Jan. 30, 2016 to file a state claim.
One potential result of a Disney legal fight is to keep the visa-related displacement issue alive during the presidential race. The Disney workers affected were based in the Orlando area, in the home state of presidential candidate Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a leading proponent of increasing the visa cap.
Rubio is a co-sponsor of the legislation, the I-Square bill, which would raise the H-1B’s annual base cap of 65,000 to 195,000 and eliminate any cap on people who earn advanced degrees at U.S. universities. Rubio, in remarks at the most recent debate earlier this month, said he wanted any firm that abused the program barred from it. But he didn’t offer any specifics about what constitutes abuse and how it would be enforced.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has advocated a 500% increase the cap, may have had a change of heart about the H-1B visa. Cruz, who is also seeking the Republican nomination, is now working on legislation to address problems with the visa, but the bill has not been released.
By Patrick Thibodeau