The Indian American chief executive officer of IT staffing company Rose International, Himanshu Bhatia, April 13 has agreed to a settlement in a case alleging she mistreated a former domestic employee.
Bhatia agreed to pay $135,000 months after the U.S. Labor Department filed a complaint on Aug. 22, 2016, against her claiming she forced Sheela Ningwal to sleep with the family dogs and work 15-and-a-half-hour days every day of the week.
The complaint alleged that Bhatia made Ningwal “work and live in servitude, without any understanding of her rights as an employee or ability to adequately enforce her rights, since Ningwal’s attempts to enforce her rights resulted not only in the loss of her employment, but of food and shelter.”
Bhatia still denies the charges but agreed to the settlement to avoid a costly lawsuit.
“Mrs. Bhatia firmly denied all of the claims made by the department regarding the employee, whom Mrs. Bhatia contended had been treated as a virtual member of the family. The lawsuit was resolved for less than the cost of continuing to litigate the case and will allow Mrs. Bhatia to focus on her business affairs,” the family said in a statement, according to an OC Register report.
The Labor Department said that the company head will pay $54,348 in wages, an additional $54,348 in liquidated damages and $26,304 gross sum damages.
The department noted that Bhatia paid Ningwal, an Indian national, $400 a month plus food in exchange for housework performed seven days a week at Bhatia’s homes in San Juan Capistrano, Miami, Las Vegas and Long Beach from July 2012 to December 2014, the report said.
It said that Ningwal was forced to sleep in the garage on a piece of carpet near Bhatia’s dogs while she was sick and was left without food if Bhatia left her home. Ningwal’s passport was also confiscated, according to the department.
Bhatia fired Ningwal in July 2014, when she asked to be paid money owed her; she re-hired her again a week later, but Ningwal was homeless for a week, according to the DoL complaint.
Ningwal was suing for unpaid minimum back wages and overtime. At the time she began her employment with Bhatia, California’s minimum wage was $8 per hour, but rose to $9 per hour in July 2014.
Bhatia told India-West (see full article here) she felt “shocked and betrayed” by Ningwal. “We treated her with dignity and love. Friends who met her thought she was a distant cousin or family member.”
She said she had given Ningwal the best bedroom of the house, with an attached bath. The bedroom was formerly used by Bhatia’s parents when they came to visit, but Bhatia said she shifted her parents to a room upstairs, so that Ningwal was not forced to move when family members visited.
Bhatia said the allegations of Ningwal being forced to sleep on a carpet in the garage were baseless.
Bhatia and her attorney, Navneet Chugh, told India-West that Ningwal was paid $1,800 per month for four to five hours of work per day. Ningwal was only responsible for cooking, said Chugh, noting that another employee handled housekeeping.
The attorney also noted that Bhatia did not deduct room and board from Ningwal’s wages; California law allows an employer to deduct $200 per month for lodging, and $3 per meal, to a maximum of $12 per day. “They are a well-to-do family. Why would they charge for room and board,” queried Chugh, adding that Ningwal stayed at the house even when the family was away.
Bhatia told India-West that she took care of Ningwal after the cook had a surgery, and provided her with transportation to get to doctors’ appointments. She said she also bought Ningwal a cellphone, computer and car.
Bhatia and her husband, Gulab, started Rose International in 1993 in their home near St. Louis. The company employs more than 4,000 American workers and had a revenue of $318 million in 2015, according to the St. Louis Business Journal.