NEW YORK: Himanshu Bhatia, the CEO of the Chesterfield, Missouri-headquartered IT staffing company, Rose International, has agreed to pay $135,000 to settle claims she mistreated and held back wages from a former domestic employee.
The U.S. Labor Department filed a complaint August 22, 2016 against Bhatia, reported the Orange County Register. The complaint alleged Bhatia forced Sheela Ningwal to sleep with the family dogs and work 15½-hour days, seven days a week.
Bhatia, according to the complaint, allegedly made Ningwal “work and live in servitude, without any understanding of her rights as an employee or ability to adequately enforce her rights, since Ms. Ningwal’s attempts to enforce her rights resulted not only in the loss of her employment, but of food and shelter.”
Bhatia continues to deny the claims but decided to settle the case 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.
Bhatia will pay $54,348 in wages, and additional $54,348 in liquidated damages and $26,304 gross sum damages, the Labor Department stated.
The Department of Labor said 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. She worked for Bhatia from July 2012 to December 2014.
The Labor Department also alleged 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 of Labor.
The department said Bhatia also subjected Ningwal to “callous abuse.”
“For example, whenever Ms. Ningwal was ill, Defendant Bhatia forced Ms. Ningwal to sleep in the garage on a piece of carpet, alongside Defendant Bhatia’s dogs who slept on a mattress, because Defendant Bhatia did not want her or her family exposed to Ms. Ningwal’s illness,” the complaint said. “Often Defendant Bhatia and her family would leave their residence for days and would neglect to leave any food for Ms. Ningwal, who depended on Defendant Bhatia for food and transportation.”
Bhatia fired Ningwal in July 2014 after Ningwal asked that she be paid money that Bhatia owed her, according to the complaint, only to rehire Ningwal a week later, reported the St. Louis Business Journal.
Then, in December 2014, after catching Ningwal researching the topic of “labor laws” online, Bhatia insisted Ningwal sign a document stating that Ningwal was being paid an adequate salary, the complaint said. After Ningwal refused, Bhatia fired her again, according to the complaint.
Bhatia and her husband, Gulab Bhatia, started Rose International in 1993 in their home near St. Louis.
Bhatia’s business specializes in consulting and IT services. Clients in 2011 included AT&T, Chevron, Verizon and the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force, according to a Smart Business article.
Rose International had $318 million in revenue in 2015 and claimed 6,000 employees, according to the St. Louis Business Journal.
Rose International has clients in all 50 states and operates offices and development centers in 10 cities in the U.S., as well as one office in New Delhi, India.
During 2015, Himanshu Bhatia was named to the National Minority Supplier Development Council’s board of directors, the first female minority business owner to serve in this role. She also was named to the 2015 Global Power 100-Women in Staffing by Staffing Industry Analysts.
The St. Louis Business Journal carried a statement from Himanshu Bhatia’s daughter, Sabina Bhatia, who called the claims in the Department of Labor complaint completely false.
“I can’t tell you how shocked, saddened and betrayed my mom is that Sheela Ningwal would say these things that are completely false,” Sabina Bhatia said in a statement. “My mom and dad—all of us in fact—treated Sheela like family. She ate with us and socialized with us. There are tons of photos and videos of these memories. My mom even cared and cooked for her when she was sick.
“For Sheela to say these completely false, awful and hurtful things to the U.S. Department of Labor, and use the government like this, is beyond words,” Sabina Bhatia continued. “People like Sheela should not be allowed to manipulate a system that was designed to help real victims. The truth is exactly the opposite of what Sheela claims. She is not a victim. My mother is as much a warm, loving and caring person as she is a hard-working entrepreneur. It is unfortunate that successful business leaders can so easily become the target of such baseless and false allegations.”