As one lawsuit sinks, Disney IT workers prepare a new fight

Federal judge rejects racketeering claims in round one of legal fight

The IT employees laid off by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, who alleged a "conspiracy to displace U.S. workers" in a lawsuit, lost a key ruling Thursday and face dismissal of the complaint. But this is a two-part legal fight, and a new lawsuit alleging national origin discrimination may be filed in the next month.

The first lawsuit followed a decision by Disney to outsource some of its IT services. It hired IT services firms HCL and Cognizant, which are also large users of H-1B visa workers. Between 200 and 300 Disney IT workers were laid off last year, and some workers said they had to train their visa-holding replacements.

Two affected employees alleged the parties engaged in a conspiracy to replace U.S. workers, in violation of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

But this week's ruling by U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell in Orlando sides with the defendants -- Disney and the contractors -- in effect dismissing the lawsuits by two former workers. The ruling did include a lifeline to the plaintiffs, namely the opportunity to file an amended complaint by Oct. 24.

As the RICO case was making its way through the court, the former Disney employees were also awaiting action by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They had filed discrimination complaints with the EEOC, a necessary first step in bringing a court action.

Sara Blackwell, the attorney for the Disney workers, said she has about 30 to 35 "right to sue" letters from the EEOC, clearing the way for a new case.

The discrimination claims are expected to include one based on national origin. It may argue that the U.S. workers were treated in a hostile manner by being forced to train foreign replacements, and were then terminated, resulting in discrimination against Americans.

Presnell's ruling may be seen as illustrating what some lawmakers of both political parties in Congress see as a problem: It is legal to replace a U.S. worker with a visa worker.

The plaintiffs, for instance, argued that under law they were not supposed to be "adversely affected" by the use of foreign visa workers. They claimed that false certifications were made in the visa paperwork. But the judge agreed with the arguments raised by the defendants, and said the "only way for that certification to be false would be if the working conditions" of the contractor's "employees were adversely affected."

Leo Perrero, a plaintiff and former Disney worker who testified before a Senate committee and explained how he trained his foreign replacement, was disappointed by the court's ruling.

"There is no loyalty to our country," said Perrero. "Greed is first and foremost, and the primary motivation here."

Blackwell said this week's ruling shows "that the government allows what happened at Disney, and what's happening all over this nation, to occur."

Disney did not respond to a request for comment.

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