On August 20, 2012, the Alabama District Court dismissed the whistleblower retaliation lawsuit initiated by Jack Palmer against Infosys. Interestingly, the judgment also ordered the plaintiff to bear the court costs, further underlining the emphatic rejection of the lawsuit. Yet in the face of this particular win for Infosys, it is important to understand the implications of the judgment for Infosys customers and investors, and for the offshore IT services industry as a whole. Should all concerned breathe a sigh of relief, leave this chapter behind, and move on to other important business? Unfortunately, no – at least not yet!
Infosys’ legal troubles are far from over. Earlier in August, Satya Dev Tripuraneni, a California-based former Infosys employee also filed a lawsuit against Infosys for whistleblower retaliation. While the judgment in the Palmer case provides encouragement to Infosys, we must take into account that the Tripuraneni lawsuit was filed in a different jurisdiction with a different judge, and has a different set of facts.
The second and more important thing to keep in mind is that the judgment in the Palmer case only exonerates Infosys from any wrong doing in response to the whistleblower’s lawsuit. It does not provide any additional clarity on the underlying issue of visa misuse by Infosys. This is currently the subject of a federal criminal investigation, and the outcome is likely to have a more direct impact on the company and the broader services market.
Unlike the whistleblower case, Infosys is on potentially weaker footing on this issue, as it admitted that the Department of Homeland Security found errors in a significant percentage of Form I-9 employer eligibility verifications with respect to employees working in the United States. An unfavorable outcome from the investigation could prove quite serious, as the consequences extend well beyond a financial fine to possibly include reputational damage, a drop in market valuation and stock price, and a shift of client work away from Infosys. The implications may also impact other Indian heritage service providers with by proxy negative reputation overhang.
The favorable resolution of the Palmer case brings much needed good news to Infosys and other India-based companies, and Infosys itself can take a deep breath and feel somewhat validated in the position it has taken to date. However, the dark clouds of the criminal investigation continue to loom ahead, and Infosys – and by extenstion the industry – is far from out of the woods.