IT worker, fighting two tough battles, files discrimination lawsuit

The Screen Actors Guild is being sued by an IT worker who says she is not only fighting national origin discrimination, but breast cancer. Both are linked.

Yelena Kutepova was a long-time IT employee at SAG - Producers Pension & Health Plans (SAG-PPHP), a separate unit from the SAG union, until she was fired in July.

Kutepova, who worked as a senior business analyst, said that she excelled at her job, received promotions, merit salary adjustments and awards in recognition of her work. But she was being forced out after a shift in hiring practices favored, specifically, males from India who held visas to work in the U.S. The lawsuit does not specify the type of visas used.

In a lawsuit recently filed in California Superior Court in Los Angeles, Kutepova alleges that her employer preferred to "import foreign workers exclusively from one specific national origin and intentionally exclude all American workers" and was pushing her out the door.

Kutepova is being represented by attorney James Otto, a critic of the H-1B visa program. The claim of national origin discrimination is something that is increasingly being cited by workers displaced by overseas contractors. The lawsuit also alleges intentional inflection of emotional distress, wrongful termination, age discrimination and other claims.

Although the lawsuit names the Screen Actors Guild, a spokeswoman for SAG said that Kutepova didn't work for union. The SAG-PPHP operates as a separate unit and administers the health and pension benefits of union members who qualify.

A spokeswoman for SAG-PPHP said the organization is "unable to comment on any details related to active litigation."

The lawsuit describes the pressure Kutepova faced. While she was being treated for cancer, Kutepova said her bonuses and pay were reduced "in retaliation for her continued use of her lunch hour to receive medical treatments for cancer."

Kutepova stopped her treatments "out of fear that SAG would retaliate with further decreases in bonus and pay."

Nonetheless, in July Kutepova was told that she was being fired on the grounds that she was missing too much time off from work "because her cancer medical treatments were scheduled at her lunch hour and would occasionally cause her to be late after lunch by 5 to 10 minutes."

The lawsuit alleges that Kutepova was replaced by an Indian national.

The written reason for her termination, according to the lawsuit, was "... to reduce the number of [SAG] employees in the IT department" and it further alleges that all the fired workers were over the age of 50 and not of Indian origin.

In October, after a biopsy, Kutepova said she was informed by her medical provider "that her cancer had returned due to the stress" because she refused to quit her job.

In the lawsuit, Kutepova says that "she may not survive long enough to see this case go to trial."


Patrick Thibodeau

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