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Accenture Faces New Bias Suit by an Indian Muslim Worker

After settling a class action last year claiming similar discrimination, the huge consulting firm is sued again.

Accenture, one of the larger U.S. consulting firms, was sued last year by an Indian employee who claimed that he and hundreds of workers like him who took part in the company’s Global Careers Program were discriminated against. The complaint filed by Elton Kent alleged he was paid less than American employees and received fewer benefits, including paid paternity leave.

Accenture settled the case for $500,000 without admitting or denying wrongdoing. Last June the company publicized “Inclusion Starts With I,” an internal program meant to raise awareness of bias in the workplace. A video appears on the company’s website with people holding signs detailing their run-ins with discrimination, including a woman whose sign says there’s a strain when conversations aren’t in her first language and a black man whose reads that he laments “being labeled entitled and lacking drive.”

Last week, Accenture got sued again, by a Muslim Indian man bringing allegations similar to those lodged by Kent. In the new suit, Mohammed Ali alleged that he was paid a lower salary and demoted, and that he didn’t receive an annual bonus, because of his race and religion. According to Ali, he regularly exceeded annual sales targets, with the exception of fiscal year 2015. He claims he was paid less than his counterparts and was given a $50 million sales target, while his colleagues had targets of $30 million.

His manager, who’s white and who knew Ali is a practicing Muslim, justified the elevated target by telling Ali he “wasn’t going to be like Bernie Sanders and give handouts,” according to the complaint, and also told Ali he agreed “with all of Trump’s views.” The statements were allegedly made during the first half of 2016 when then-candidate Donald Trump was calling for a Muslim immigration ban.

Ali ended the fiscal year with $40.9 million in sales. The complaint alleged that the company “shorted” him on other deals, “so as to falsely deflate Mr. Ali’s sales production for the year.” Ali claims he was demoted shortly thereafter. “The discrimination has caused Mr. Ali significant economic harm—in the neighborhood of seven figures,” according to the lawsuit, filed in Houston federal court. 

In a statement, Accenture said it’s committed “to inclusion and diversity” and “that no one should be discriminated against because of their differences.” But with regard to Ali’s case, company spokeswoman Stacey Jones said his claims “are without merit.” Ali’s attorney, Mark Oberti, declined to comment.

Consulting firms like Chicago-based Accenture are a support structure of sorts for corporate America. Such companies can be hired to bring in outside expertise, look into industry trends, or help with corporate restructuring. Accenture said it works with more than 75 percent of Fortune Global 500 companies. In 2016 the company said Asians made up 34 percent, or 16,262 people, of the more than 47,000 employees in its U.S. workforce.

Meanwhile, in America at large, Muslim Americans contend there’s increasing discrimination against them inside the workplace and out: Almost half said they had faced at least one incident during the 12 months prior to a Pew Research Center study conducted from January to May of this year. More than two-thirds of respondents said Trump has added to their worries.

People who practice Islam make up just 1 percent of the U.S. population, according to Pew. But despite this relatively small figure, about 40 percent of religion-based workplace complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission in 2015 were related to Muslims. 

“Corporations are in the position to safeguard their South Asian and Muslim employees’ civil rights,” said Suman Raghunathan, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, a nonprofit advocacy group. There needs to be more emphasis on implicit bias training and zero tolerance policies against discrimination at companies, she said.

“We believe now is the moment for responsible corporations, workplaces, and other entities to take a stand themselves,” Raghunathan said. “The moral high ground and the arc of justice we believe is increasingly lying in both civil society as well as responsible corporations.”

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