Did Disney conspire to replace its workers with immigrants?

Two former Disney employees allege in separate lawsuits that the entertainment conglomerate laid off workers in order to replace them with foreign labor.

Fred Prouser/Reuters/File
A part of the signage at the main gate of The Walt Disney Co., in Burbank, Calif., in 2012.

Two lawsuits filed Monday allege that Walt Disney World colluded with two consulting companies to replace more than 200 of its employees with immigrant labor.

Attorney Sara Blackwell filed both suits on behalf of two clients, former Disney employees Leo Perrero and Dena Moore. Mr. Perrero’s complaint names Walt Disney World and the IT consulting firm HCL Technologies Limited as defendants; Ms. Moore filed against Disney and the consulting company Cognizant.

Both Perrero and Moore were laid off by the Disney amusement park from their technology jobs last January, and claim that Disney conspired with HCL and Cognizant to bring in foreign workers by abusing the H-1B non-immigrant work visa. Perrero and Moore also say Disney made them train their replacements in the months leading up to the layoffs.

“I don’t have to be angry or cause drama,” Moore said to The New York Times “But they are just doing things to save a buck, and it’s making Americans poor.”

H-1B visas are granted to individuals working in a “specialty occupation,” including technology, and allow foreign workers a three-year stay. However, the arrival of an immigrant specialist must align with two important stipulations as noted by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services: that “There are insufficient available, qualified, and willing U.S. workers to fill the position being offered at the prevailing wage,” and that “Hiring a foreign worker will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.”

“Was I negatively affected?” Moore said to the Times. “Yeah, I was. I lost my job.”

Perrero and Moore argue that Disney and both HCL and Cognizant took advantage of the H-1B process and in doing so displaced them and scores of their colleagues. The visa process is supposed to bring skilled foreigners to the US in the event that there are no nationals to fill a position, and usually a foreign worker can only submit a single application for an H-1B.

In recent years, though, consulting companies like HCL and Cognizant have flooded the visa application system with unlimited applications for their employees, thereby increasing the chances that their workers will be granted a position. In 2013, HCL and Cognizant alone accounted for more than 6 percent of the H-1B visas the US government granted, and only 13 similar consulting firms accounted for about one third of the visas.

Perrero’s lawsuit alleges that HCL and Disney continued misusing the process despite knowing that the dismissal of Americans in favor of foreigners would affect working conditions, and that the companies committed visa fraud, which constitutes “racketeering activity” under US code.

“The bigger picture is stopping this blatant abuse of the immigration system, which has caused hundreds of thousands of Americans to be fired,” Blackwell told Law360.

US senators have recently brought bills aiming to reform the H-1B visa system to Congress. Sen. Ted Cruz introduced the American Jobs First Act of 2015 in December, a provision of which would make sure that no employees being replaced by H-1B immigrant workers were “displaced, furloughed, terminated without cause, or otherwise involuntarily separated without cause” within the two years prior to the arrival of the foreign workers. Cruz’s bill would also raise H-1B workers’ minimum wage to $110,000 in an effort to dissuade their hiring solely based on lower pay. Another bill aimed at strengthening visa implementation, the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2015, was introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley in November.

HCL and Cognizant have not yet commented on either lawsuit. Disney issued a statement Monday denying collusion or a misuse of the H-1B visa process.

“These lawsuits are based on an unsustainable legal theory and are a wholesale misrepresentation of the facts,” the company said, according to the Times.

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