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US appeals revives lawsuit by former employee of Tech Mahindra’s subsidiary

A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday revived a lawsuit by a white former employee of Indian IT services company Tech Mahindra Ltd’s U.S. subsidiary, alleging that the company discriminates against non-South Asian workers.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the judge who dismissed Lee Williams’ 2020 proposed class action applied the wrong standard in determining that he had not adequately alleged a violation of federal civil rights law.

The judge had ruled that Williams failed to claim that he would not have been fired but for his race. But the 3rd Circuit said that because the case seeks class action status, Williams only had to allege that Tech Mahindra had engaged in a “pattern or practice” of race discrimination.

The court also said the judge must reconsider their ruling that the lawsuit was untimely because Williams filed it more than four years after he lost his job with Tech Mahindra.

Lawyers for the company, which has denied engaging in discrimination, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did lawyers representing Williams.

Williams filed the lawsuit in New Jersey federal court in 2020 accusing Tech Mahindra of violating Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 by discriminating against workers who are not of South Asian descent in hiring, promotions and terminations.

Williams says he was fired in 2015 for failing to meet sales goals while South Asian workers with similar records kept their jobs. He had previously asked to be added to a similar lawsuit in North Dakota, but that case was sent to arbitration.

Tech Mahindra’s U.S. subsidiary has more than 5,000 employees and 90% of them are South Asian, according to filings in the case.

U.S. District Judge Brian Martinotti in Newark dismissed the case in 2021, saying Williams had not stated a claim for discrimination. The judge also said Williams had waited too long to sue, and an exception for plaintiffs who had previously sought to participate in a separate class action did not apply.

Williams appealed and the 3rd Circuit on Wednesday reversed Martinotti’s ruling. The panel said Martinotti failed to address Williams’ alternative claim that the window for him to file the lawsuit should have been extended because he initially sought to sue in North Dakota, which was the wrong forum because he was from New Jersey.

The court remanded the case to Martinotti to consider that argument and to apply the correct standard to determine whether Williams had stated a claim under Section 1981.

The panel included Circuit Judges Peter Phipps, Joseph Greenaway and Cheryl Krause. Reuters

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