Indian-American engineer fired for talking with dying relative in Hindi; files lawsuit

PTI, Aug 1, 2023, 4:18 PM IST

A 78-year-old Indian-American engineer was fired from his long-time job with a missile defence contractor in the US state of Alabama for speaking in Hindi with his dying relative in India over a video call, a media report quoted a lawsuit filed by him.

Anil Varshney, a Senior Systems Engineer with Huntsville missile defence contractor Parsons Corporation, recently filed a federal lawsuit alleging systemic discriminatory actions that left him jobless in October last year.

A white co-worker heard Varshney speaking in Hindi on a telephone call with his dying brother-in-law in India, AL.COM reported on Monday.

Varshney on September 26, 2022 “received a video call from his elderly brother-in-law K.C. Gupta, [who] was on his deathbed in India and called to say goodbye to Varshney”.

“Knowing the dire situation and that he may never have the opportunity to speak to (Gupta) again, Varshney stepped into an empty cubicle and accepted the call,” the suit said.

“Before doing so, he made sure there were no classified materials or anything else pertaining to MDA’s (Missile Defence Agency) or Parsons’ work anywhere near him,” said the lawsuit, which also names Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin as legal representative for the MDA.

The two spoke for approximately two minutes in Hindi when another worker interrupted Varshney and asked whether he was on a video call, which he confirmed, according to the suit that was filed in June in the northern district of Alabama.

“(The other worker) told Varshney that the call was not allowed and Varshney immediately hung up. The call was the last time they spoke before Gupta passed away.”

The suit claims the other worker was “intimidated by Varshney speaking in a language he did not understand” and “falsely and intentionally” reported that the Indian-American “committed a security violation by revealing confidential information and/or accepting this call during a confidential meeting or with confidential information in the background”.

“Varshney accepted the call from his brother-in-law in an empty cubicle and spoke to him for approximately two minutes,” reads the lawsuit.

“Despite there being no policy prohibiting the call, and without any investigation, the defendants claimed Varshney committed a serious security violation and fired him. Worse, they blackballed him from future [Missile Defence Agency] work, effectively ending his career and life of service to MDA and the US government,” the lawsuit said.

The suit added that Parsons in a call informed Varshney that his “privileges at MDA [had] been revoked” and told him to meet the supervisor at the office.

“When Varshney arrived, (the supervisor) and MDA security personnel met him in the lobby, escorted him to his cubicle, and instructed him to pack up his personal belongings,” the suit said.

“MDA security personnel opened and searched through every file in his cubicle and through his personal belongings. Varshney was humiliated and defendants were essentially accusing him of being a spy simply for speaking in a foreign language to a dying family member.”

Parsons in a response filed with the court on July 24 said it “denies it engaged in any of the wrongdoing alleged by plaintiff or that plaintiff is entitled to any relief whatsoever”.

Parsons also asked for the suit’s dismissal with prejudice and demanded Varshney pay its attorneys’ fees and costs, the report says.

Parsons representative Birmingham attorney Sharon L. Miller has not yet responded to a request for further comment from AL.COM.

Varshney immigrated to the US in 1968 and settled in Huntsville where they became American citizens. His wife Sashi has worked at NASA since 1989.

Varshney was once lauded as “Contractor of the Year” in systems engineering and received a letter of MDA recommendation “for saving USD 5 million on the ground-based missile defense programme”.

The lawsuit said he provided “engineering support for the development of integrated and layered missile defence systems which defend the United States and allied partner forces against ballistic missile threats”.

The suit says Varshney seeks reinstatement to a position “comparable to his former position”, the reinstatement of privileges, and the revocation (or removal) of any disciplinary records in his file.

If he is not reinstated to his job level, Varshney seeks “front pay including benefits”.

He also seeks compensatory damages for “mental anguish and emotional distress”, along with punitive and liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees, according to the report.

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