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Infosys lawsuit brings focus back to the issue of biases in the IT industry

CNBCTV18 logo CNBCTV18 07-10-2022 Nishtha Pandey

Infosys has landed itself in another lawsuit. This time, the company's former vice president of talent acquisition, Jill Prejean, sued the IT company for age and sex discrimination in the US. She has said the IT company treated her unfairly and retaliated against her for not giving in to a “pressure campaign” to persuade her to discriminate.

The news of bias existing in the IT industry is not new. There have been many complaints by employees of not being hired because of age, and women have faced discrimination for being above a certain age or being mothers.

In March, five US-based former employees of Wipro filed a class suit alleging “discriminatory employment practices” based on race and nationality. In the same month, a former Google employee sued the tech giant for racial discrimination, saying it engages in a “pattern and practice” of unfair treatment for its Black workers.

Separately, in 2019, Google agreed to pay $11 million to settle an age-discrimination class suit brought by over 200 job applicants over the age of 40 who were denied positions. In 2015, cases were filed against tech giant Microsoft for discrimination based on gender and nationality.

The age bias

40-year-old techie Himash Sharma was asked to resign from a major tech company in India in 2018 after serving for seven years, and the reason given was ‘under performance’.

It took him three years to find a new job as he was getting rejected almost everywhere despite his experience. Speaking to CNBC-TV18.com, Himanshu said, “I hadn't expected I would be fired after completing my projects, despite sticking to deadlines. Most firms don’t hire old employees as they can easily higher younger ones to do the same work at a lesser pay grade.”

Also read: Startups in India have less than 20% women in leadership roles: Survey

According to a 2020 study by TimesJob and TechGig, age-related bias is/has been experienced by up to 33 percent of Indian employees; the numbers were 17 percent for physical appearance and 15 percent based on religion or culture, closely followed by gender-based bias at 14 percent.

"Employees are forced to stay in a particular domain in the IT sector because the senior the employee is, the more the bills are," Kiran Chandra, president of Forum IT Professionals, told CNBC-TV18.com. The organisation works towards uniting everyone associated with the knowledge economy sector.

Chandra mentioned that the organisation had worked in several cases where employees were persuaded not to shift projects to the latest technology, and when the projects moved to a certain technology, they were shunned in the name of "not meeting expectations".

Chandra agreed with Himash Sharma's point that firms do replace experienced professionals with newer employees with the same skill set at less wage. He added that these wage restrictions also form hiring biases.

Age bias in India Inc is much more pronounced than discrimination based on physical appearance, culture, gender, religion, and race, as per the TimesJobs and TechGig survey.

Also read: Wipro, Infosys and Tech Mahindra draw ire of freshers for delaying or revoking offer letters

The gender bias

“Discrimination against mothers who want to work with IT companies is not limited to Infosys. We have handled cases where Indian IT companies tend not to hire female employees who are newly married to avoid providing maternity benefits," said Harpreet Singh Saluja, President of Nascent Information Technology Employees Senate NITES. NITES is an NGO that works for the protection of benefits, welfare and rights of IT and ITeS employees.

In her complaint, Prejean alleged that former Infosys SVP and head of consulting Mark Livingston demanded that Prejean should "not put forward candidates for jobs who were over 50 years of age and women who had children at home". She has also named former partners Dan Albright and Jerry Kurtz in the suit.

According to 35-year-old IT employee Priyanka Nair, there is a hiring bias in both corporates and startups concerning women and leadership positions.

"I was asked to declare my plans on having a 'family' at one IT startup because I had recently got married and the company was a 'budding one' and required the hiree to provide 'more time and commitment',” said Nair, adding they were point-blank that they can't afford long leaves from leaders.

Chandra said their organisation has worked with employees who have complained that  IT companies degrade the performance level of women employees when they go on maternity leave and then ley them off on reasons of 'poor performance'.

The TimesJobs and TechGig survey also mentioned that about 79 percent of respondents said they were not denied a promotion because of their gender.

For now, Infosys’ motion to dismiss the charges has been rejected by a New York federal judge, and the firm has been directed to file an answer to the suit.

Also read: 2,000 techies left in the lurch? Freshers detail ordeal as Wipro delays onboarding

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