Former Disney IT workers claim discrimination

Wes Williams Nov 24, 2015

Disney may be slapped with a lawsuit from former employees claiming discrimination over an issue that’s likely to get more attention this election season: guest workers.

Twenty-seven IT workers from Disney have filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging discriminatory employment practices. The complaints are being made in response to the termination of American IT professionals in January 2015, which are necessary precursors to bringing a lawsuit against Disney, according to Sara Blackwell, the attorney representing the claimants.

“Disney has violated Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] by taking adverse employment actions against the American national/non-Indian national and replaced them with Indian nationals,” Blackwell said, as well as discriminating based on age and gender.

“We have restructured our global technology organization to significantly increase our cast member focus on future innovation and new capabilities, and are continuing to work with leading technical firms to maintain our existing systems as needed,” a Disney spokesperson said at the time of the layoffs. 

Disney could not be reached for further comment on the current complaints.

The EEOC will conduct its own investigation into these claims, after that time it will issue a letter which provides the workers with the right to file a lawsuit, regardless of what the investigation concludes.

In addition to the discrimination claims, the workers have also claimed a hostile work environment for having to train their replacements. Ronil Hira said this process is called “knowledge transfer,” and it is not unique to Disney. Hira is an associate professor in the political science department at Howard University and a research associate with the Economic Policy Institute. He studies visas, including the H-1B visa that allows employers to hire guest workers for highly skilled roles like these IT jobs, to the tune of 125,000 each year.

The lawsuit that could result from these EEOC complaints is a civil rights suit, but the H-1B and its loopholes are what some point to as an incentive for Disney to replace its American employees with guest workers. The visa is supposed to provide American employers the opportunity to fill talent gaps in their workforce with non-American workers when no American workers are available. According to Hira, a lack of enforcement by the Obama administration and poor wage regulation between Congress and employers is allowing employers to instead hire guest workers at lower wages than their American counterparts.

He says that these protections exist not just for American workers, but also for the sake of the guest workers using the visas. The wage regulations would ensure that the guest workers received a fair market wage for their work, instead of much less, with companies saving, “anywhere from 25 percent to 50 percent, in terms of wages.” 

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