Tech Giant Heads to Court Over Holiday Teasing

American citizen fights for right to celebrate holidays

By Scott Budman
|  Friday, Dec 4, 2009  |  Updated 4:00 PM PDT
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Tech Giant Heads to Court Over Holiday Teasing

ashwinkumar

Thanksgiving? Not here, Infosys bosses told one American employee.

Is it wrong for an American to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas?

Sounds like a crazy question, but it's actually at the center of a lawsuit that's on its way to court. 

Promila Awasthi is a US citizen, originally from India.  She lives in Silicon Valley, and worked for software giant Infosys at its Fremont, Calif. office in 2008. 

When she was there, she claims, she was routinely teased by two of her supervisors for celebrating American holidays.  "Why, as an Indian, should you be celebrating Thanksgiving?" she says she was asked.  "You should not be doing that," she was told.

Infosys is based in Bangalore, India.  Its offices there and in nearby Mysore are magnificent.  This is truly a global company, making software that reaches out to all corners of the world.  It's famous not just for its consistent growth, stock price and success, but for being a company that supposedly transcends borders and cultures.  But now it's facing serious charges that strike at the heart of its vaunted ability to rise above cultural differences.

Awasthi, whose children are also Indian-born American citizens, says she was also ridiculed when superiors found out that she and her family celebrate Christmas.  She was called "IBCD," short for "Indian-Born Confused Desi," a term of insult used to criticize people from India who assimilate to certain American ways. 

But, as if that's not enough, Awasthi says some of her Infosys colleagues criticized America in another way, one that would surely make the blood of Lou Dobbs boil:  When the America economy was going through its recent shudders, causing massive layoffs across the US corporate landscape,  Awasthi claims that many at the company celebrated as the economy went south.

"Every time the layoff news comes, they're happy," she says. "They say this is good for us, those jobs will be outsourced." 

If this is true, Infosys has some workers who just may set the progress of Indian-American business relations back years.

After nine months at Infosys, Awasthi said the pressure was too much, and she resigned.  She's now suing her former employer, alleging both workplace harassment and failure to pay overtime (Awasthi says she's owed more than $21,000 for working late nights and weekends). 

She says she wants to be able to tell her children they should be proud to be American citizens, proud to both work here, and proud to celebrate its holidays. 

Infosys did not respond to our email or phone requests for comment, but a company spokesman did tell an Indian news website, "We are treating the allegations seriously and will be initiating an internal review into this matter." 

The matter is due to be heard in court, in Oakland, on April 7.

It's another date for holiday-hating bosses to dread.

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