Lawsuit: Indianapolis staffing company abused foreign workers, violated federal labor laws

Suit calls Access Therapies 'fraudulent'

INDIANAPOLIS - Indianapolis staffing company Access Therapies is facing a federal lawsuit accusing them of abusing legal foreign workers and violating federal labor laws.

The lawsuit, filed by former Access Therapies worker Rituraj Singh Panwar, also lists manager Ramon Villegas and affiliates RN Staff Inc., Rehability Care as defendants.

According to its website, Access Therapies provides health care staffing to hospitals, schools and other facilities using H-1B visa sponsorships to hire workers from India, the Philippines and other foreign countries.

American companies are supposed to use those visas to bring in skilled foreign labor when they can’t find Americans to do the work.

According to the federal lawsuit, Access Therapies does not pay its employees prevailing wages as required by law.

Panwar’s attorneys allege Access Therapies engaged in a “fraudulent enterprise” and violated federal anti-trafficking and forced labor laws as well as Indiana’s state wage laws.

“It’s an abuse of the employee as well as an abuse of the entire system,” said Vonda Vandaveer, one of the attorneys for Panwar.

Attorneys for Panwar are seeking a class action lawsuit, and say about 100 workers could be impacted.

Panwar’s attorneys claim Access Therapies frequently does not have work for its employees despite the visas, which they say is hurting the American economy.

“We don’t want people to come over here to the country and sit and be idle and not be working jobs and be controlled by an employer located in the United States and for that employer to profit on that scenario,” said Michael Brown, one of Panwar’s attorneys, who represents visa workers. “Mr. Panwar alleges specifically in his complaint he was not paid during his wait time when he was available to work and willing to work in the U.S.”

Vandaveer explained the H-1B visas are most often used by the IT and health care industries.
           
“There’s a limit on the number of visas issued each year,” said Vandaveer. “So this employer who said they have a job for this employee, in fact, does not have a job available and has used up one of the precious visas for a position that didn’t exist.”
           
Indianapolis attorney Gary Welsh represents several foreign workers who are being sued by Access Therapies for breach of contract.
           
“It’s very troubling,” said Welsh. “It’s been an emotional and financial burden on them.”
           
The Call 6 Investigators examined court records and found dozens of pending cases in Marion County in which Access Therapies is listed as the plaintiff.
           
“The exploitation of these foreign workers amounts to a modern day version of indentured servitude,” said Welsh.
           
The Call 6 Investigators stopped by Access Therapies office on West 71st Street.
           
Manager Ramon Villegas, who is named in the federal lawsuit, told RTV6 the allegations are not true and deferred to the company’s attorney.
           
Attorney Bryce Bennett Jr., confirmed via email his clients would not be responding to RTV6 for comment.
           
A 2010 letter from the U.S. Department of Labor to Access Therapies said the company failed to pay wages as required and cooperate with their investigation.
           
“Your firm owes back wages in the amount of $1,012,306.08 to fifty-three H-1B nonimmigrants,” read the letter. “Your firm is liable for any ongoing violations.”
           
When the Call 6 Investigators asked about the status of the case, a Department of Labor spokesperson said the agency would not comment on ongoing investigations.
           
As for the federal suit, a hearing is scheduled for Feb. 14 in Indianapolis federal court.

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