New York, April 20: An Indian-American woman CEO has been ordered to pay a hefty amount of $135,000 (Rs 87.22 lakh) to her former domestic worker from India after a probe by the US labour department found that she underpaid the employee and mistreated her.
Himanshu Bhatia, the CEO of Rose International and IT Staffing, will have to pay her former live-in domestic service worker back wages and damages under the terms of a consent judgement entered into the US district court for the central district of California, PTI reported. The judgement, entered on April 11, resolves a complaint filed by the US department of labour in August last year.
An investigation by the department's wage and hour division found that Bhatia wilfully and repeatedly violated federal labour laws' minimum wage and record keeping provisions from July 2012 to December 2014.
The complaint alleged that Bhatia paid her domestic service worker, who had been identified in an earlier complaint as Sheela Ningwal, a fixed monthly salary of $400 plus food and housing at Bhatia's home in San Juan Capistrano and other residences in Miami, Las Vegas and Long Beach.
Investigators found that the employee suffered 'callous abuse' and retaliation, including being forced to sleep on a piece of carpet in the garage when ill, while Bhatia's dogs slept on a mattress nearby. The complaint also alleged that Bhatia confiscated Ningwal's passport.
According to the labour department, Bhatia has agreed to pay $54,348 as wages, and additional $54,348 in liquidated damages and $26,304 gross sum damages. Bhatia terminated the worker in December 2014 after she allegedly found her researching labour laws online.
The worker also refused to sign a document stating she was being paid an adequate salary and had no employment dispute with Bhatia.
"This consent judgement underlines the department's commitment to protecting workers from exploitation," said Janet Herold, solicitor for the department of labour's western region.
"The department will take strong and immediate action to ensure that workers are protected against retaliation," Herold added.
Statement from the Bhatia family:
A statement from the Bhatia family says that, "Mrs. Bhatia reached a settlement agreement to resolve the complaint brought by the Department of Labor regarding a former employee. Mrs. Bhatia firmly denies all of the claims made by the Department regarding the employee. The Bhatias chose to enter into this settlement agreement to resolve a matter for far less than the cost of continuing litigation. Mrs. Bhatia will continue to focus her efforts on business, community development and her family. No one was forced or ordered to pay anything. It was a mutual agreement, the statement also read.