The SAG Pension & Health Plans are expected to be served Monday with a wrongful-termination lawsuit accusing the benefit plans of firing an older female employee who was undergoing treatment for breast cancer and, to save money, replacing her with a younger, male foreign worker. The suit, which also names SAG-AFTRA as a defendant, claims that the Plans discriminated against her by operating as a “body shop” for IT workers who are brought there from India to work illegally on temporary visas.
If true, it’s yet another black eye for the $3 billion benefits Plans, which have been stung by a string of embarrassing scandals and controversies recently.
The suit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in October (read it here), but the defendants have yet to be served. It alleges that Yelena Kutepova was fired from her job in the IT department in July to make room for a worker from India. And once again, Nader Karimi, the plans’ disgraced and now-convicted former Chief Information Officer, allegedly is involved.
In her suit, which also alleges age discrimination and discrimination based on national origin, Kutepova says she has “documents and witnesses” who will attest that the Plans operate as a “body shop” that brings in foreign workers “exclusively from one specific national origin under fraudulently filed work visas to intentionally exclude U.S. workers from the employment market.” According to the suit, the Plans “engaged in the abuse of the work visa program by hiring foreign workers on H1-B work visas. The majority of H1-B workers hired by (the Plans) and working onsite at its Los Angeles offices are of Indian national origin.”Her attorney, James Otto, has made similar allegations against other industry employers. He’s also claimed that when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, she authorized the American embassy in India to accept and process visa applications in excess of “established limits.” Otto said he sent a process server to serve the lawsuit Thursday, but the offices of SAG-AFTRA and the SAG P&H Plans were closed for Christmas Eve. He said he’ll serve them on Monday.
Kutepova, who had worked in the IT department at the Plans since 1998, said she was fired by her supervisor on July 17 “on the grounds that she was missing too much time off work because her cancer medical treatments were scheduled at her lunch hour and would occasionally cause her to be late after lunch by 5 to 10 minutes.”
The suit alleges that on that same day, the Plans told her in writing that she was being terminated “to reduce the number of employees in the IT department.” She claims, however, that other “American workers” — who, like she, had been downsized — were all over age 50 and “not of Indian national origin” and that they were replaced by “males, under the age of 40, all of whom were of Indian national origin.”
Kutepova claims that her supervisor had schemed with his boss, Karimi, to get rid of her for years, creating a hostile work environment in an attempt to make her quit. Her supervisor had been Karimi’s protégé, had come with him to the Plans from Fox and succeeded Karimi as head of the IT department after he was fired for allegedly embezzling from the Plans.
A month after the suit was filed, Karimi pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return in which he failed to report income of more than $700,000 he received from contractors to upgrade the Plans’ computer system. Karimi was fired from the Plans in 2009 for allegedly taking kickbacks from outside tech vendors to whom he’d awarded lucrative contracts. According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, “Karimi entered into agreements with vendors that agreed to pay a portion of the money they received from Plans to a company affiliated with Karimi, Enterprise Technology and Management Services. The payments to ETMS totaled $711,000, and Karimi used the sums for personal expenses while not declaring them as income on his tax returns.”
The alleged embezzlement scheme brought down the Plans’ longtime CEO, Bruce Dow, who resigned in 2012 after Craig Simmons, the Plans’ former Executive Director of Human Resources, accused him of covering up Karimi’s alleged embezzlement, a charge Dow vehemently denied. That case was settled in confidential arbitration in the fall 2014.
When Simmons was fired, he sued the Plans, and during his deposition, Dow told how he came to discover Karimi’s actions, which took place in spring 2009. Dow said it had been difficult to determine exactly how much Karimi allegedly had embezzled but testified it could have been as much as $3 million.
“Before Nader Karimi was appointed as Chief Information Officer, (the Plans’) IT department was a diverse workplace, comprised of workers from many national origins and who were either United States citizens or green card holders,” she states in the suit, claiming that today it is “no longer diverse, consisting mainly of employees of Indian descent.”
The U.S. Department of Labor keeps a list of “willful violators” of the H-IB visa program, and the SAG Pension and Health Plans is not on it.