By Roy S. Johnson

A 78-year-old Indian American engineer in Huntsville, Anil Varshney filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination by his defense missile contractor after he was fired when a white employee overheard him speaking Hindi to his dying brother-in-law.

An Indian American engineer says he was fired last year from his long-time job with a Huntsville missile defense contractor after he was heard speaking Hindi on the telephone.

Anil Varshney, a 78-year-old Indian American and long-time Senior Systems Engineer with Huntsville missile defense contractor Parsons Corporation recently filed a federal lawsuit alleging systemic discriminatory actions by the company that culminated in his firing last October after a white co-worker heard him speaking Hindi on a telephone call with his dying brother-in-law in India.

The co-worker “falsely reported [Varshney] for a violation of ‘security regulations’,” states the lawsuit, which was filed in June in the Northern District of Alabama.

“Mr. Varshney accepted the call from his brother-in-law in an empty cubicle and spoke to him for approximately two minutes,” the lawsuit reads. “Despite there being no policy

prohibiting the call, and without any investigation, defendants claimed Mr. Varshney committed a serious security violation and fired him. Worse, they blackballed him from future [Missile Defense Agency] work, effectively ending his career and life of service to MDA and the United States government.”

In a response filed with the court on July 24, Parsons “denies it engaged in any of the wrongdoing alleged by Plaintiff or that Plaintiff is entitled to any relief whatsoever.” In its response, Parsons also asks for the suit’s dismissal with prejudice, and that Varshney pay its attorneys’ fees and costs.

In a statement to, Parsons: “Mr. Varshney was terminated after several security violations, including using Facetime on his personal phone at a controlled worksite. This series of documented improper conduct violates both Parsons and U.S. Government policy.

“For nearly 80 years, Parsons has consistently been recognized as a leading employer who embodies diversity, equity, and inclusion across our more than 17,000 global employees,” the statement continues. “The company is also proud of its longstanding history defending our national security and protecting our warfighters, which is core to our values and business.”

The lawsuit also names Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin as legal representative for MDA.

Varshney earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Banaras Hindu University, and immigrated to the United States in 1968, according to the lawsuit. He was followed a year later by his wife Shashi. He earned a master’s degree in industrial and systems engineering at Oklahoma State University before settling in Huntsville, where they became American citizens. Sashi has worked at NASA since 1989.

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

“I love this great country and state, which I have called my home for over 50 years,” Varshney said in a prepared statement. “I have devoted my life to strengthening the defense of this nation. Our kids, all proud American citizens raised in Alabama, are Rhodes Scholars, senior corporate executives, and physicians.”

Varshney “literally achieved the ‘American Dream’,” the suit states.

But that did not prevent him from experiencing a series of microaggressions because of his nationality, Varshney claims.

In 2002, Varshney began working for MDA, according to the lawsuit. In 2011, Parsons, which had been contracted by MDA since the early 1980s to provide engineering, analysis, and management support, the lawsuit states, was awarded the contract Varshney was working on for MDA. “From that point, Varshney was jointly employed by MDA and Parsons, the suit reads, under the supervision of employees of both Parsons and MDA the suit describes as three “white men in their 40s or 50s.”

Varshney, according to the suit, provided “engineering support for the development of integrated and layered missile defense systems which defend the United States and allied partner forces against ballistic missile threats.

“He provided capability requirements analysis, system verification, and specification development for defense weapons systems and components,” the suit continues, “worked to identify and satisfy customer needs; and resolved issues across organization boundaries.”

And yet Varshney, who “speaks with a strong accent,” the suit states, “was the target of ethnically charged and ageist comments and actions multiple times by younger, white employees of defendants.”

Among the example cited in the suit: “[Y]ounger, white employees of Parsons and MDA would frequently exclude Varshney from conversations while he was present in meetings. They would use names for Varshney like ‘This Thing’ even when he was sitting right next to them and would complain that they could not understand his Indian accent.

“Coworkers would pretend that Varshney did not exist by directing their answers to his questions to white employees, ignoring him entirely. On one occasion, refreshments were offered during a meeting to younger, white employees, but not to Varshney.”

The suit describes these examples as a “small sampling of the discriminatory treatment he was subjected during his employment with defendants.”

On Monday, September 26, 2022, according to the suit, Varshney was working on the second floor of the MDA building when he “received a video call from his elderly brother-in-law, Mr. 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 outlines. “Before doing so, he made sure there were no classified materials or anything else pertaining to MDA’s or Parsons’ work anywhere near him,” the lawsuit states.

“The two spoke for approximately two minutes in Hindi,” according to the lawsuit.

That’s when another worker, according to the suit, happened by and heard Varshney speaking Hindi. “(The other worker) interrupted Varshney and asked whether he was on a video call, which Mr. Varshney confirmed,” the suit states. “(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.”

Which then led to the other worker to “falsely and intentionally” report that Varshney “committed a security violation by revealing confidential information and/or accepting this call during a confidential meeting or with confidential information in the background of the call,” the lawsuit claims.

“There was no confidential or classified information anywhere near the call,” the suit alleges. “The cubicle where Mr. Varshney accepted the video call was completely empty with no office material or wall hangings in the cubicle, and there was no confidential information being exchanged nearby.”

And at the time, according to the lawsuit, the office was still operating under COVID protocols. “There were only two other employees on the entire floor, including (the other worker).”

As for the policy on “security regulations,” allegedly stated by the other worker upon hearing Varshney speaking in Hindi on the call with his brother: “There is no policy, rule, or regulation of either Parsons or MDA that prevented or prohibited Varshney from accepting the call from his dying brother-in-law,” the suit states.

“Neither Parsons nor MDA ever instructed or communicated to Varshney that such a call was prohibited. In fact, cell phones are expressly permitted in the Huntsville MDA building, as long as they are not taken inside classified conference rooms or used during classified meetings.”

About a week later, according to the lawsuit, Varshney was on his way to work when he received a call from his Parsons supervisor. His “privileges at MDA [had] been revoked”, he allegedly was told, and 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 states. “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, according to the lawsuit.

Varshney was escorted to his car by MDA security personnel, and all belongings were searched again, the suit states. “Varshney was not provided any opportunity to explain the situation or refute any inaccuracies that had been reported …. to Parsons or to MDA,” the suit claims.

A few days later, according to the lawsuit, Varshney received a “Notification of Termination” letter from Parsons stating he had committed a “major offense” by “violating government security regulations…. when [he] used the Facetime application on [his] personal phone at the classified worksite.”

The letter, according to the lawsuit, noted stated Varshney “had [two] previous security violations for connecting a thumb-drive to your work issued computer.”

Varshney was being terminated “effective immediately”. The lawsuit states: “[T]here [was] no discussion with Varshney, much less any kind of legitimate investigation.”

“Varshney had never been informed that he had engaged in any activity that was considered to be a security violation, whether for video calls, thumb drives, or anything else,” the suit states. “He had not been the subject of any inquiry or investigation into any of these alleged incidents. He has never taken his cell phone into a classified meeting and did not have two prior security violations relating to the use of a thumb drive in a computer.

“Further, Varshney had received no training that video calls are prohibited or considered a major offense even when conducted in empty areas.”

The suit alleges that “defendants departed from their ordinary protocols to discriminate against Varshney and end his career, providing him with no due process or recourse to dispute the falsified allegations.

“Defendants have since admitted that they made no attempt to investigate the truth or veracity of any of the allegations against Varshney or to determine whether any security violation had ever been committed by Varshney,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, they falsified the reasons for Mr. Varshney’s termination and/or relied on a falsified report that Mr. Varshney had committed a security violation before summarily and abruptly terminating him and, upon information and belief, replacing him with a younger, white person.”

The suit alleges Parsons failed to “take similar action against younger, white employees.”

It cites a particular meeting “where cell phones and unclassified computers are not allowed, a younger, white employee opened an unclassified computer and began working. That employee was simply tapped on the shoulder and reminded that he was committing a security violation.

“To Varshney’s knowledge, that incident was never reported, and the individual was not terminated or even disciplined. Younger, white employees have also been permitted to take photos inside the MDA Huntsville building without any repercussions.”

In the suit, Varshney challenges how Parsons “highlights flashy diversity award emblems and statistics.”

“The vast majority of defendants’ employees are white, and defendants created and fostered an environment that permitted, and possibly encouraged, unlawful discrimination based on Varshney’s race, color, national origin, and/or age,” the suit alleges. “Among other things, Defendants failed to properly train their employees regarding anti-discrimination and antiharassment of coworkers.”

Notwithstanding the copious claims made in the suit, Varshney wanted to return to work—at Parsons. But was unsuccessful.

“Believing his termination to have been a misunderstanding, and desiring to be reinstated, Varshney attempted to resolve his termination through Parsons’ Employee Dispute Resolution procedure. … However, … Parsons perpetuated its discrimination by failing to participate.

“Varshney repeatedly requested Parsons to substantiate its allegations with evidence that accepting the two-minute, private call from his dying brother-in-law and speaking in Hindi violated MDA’s and/or Parsons’s security protocols or policies,” the suit states. “Parsons refused to do so because it knows that is not possible.”

The suit also alleges Varshney has been “blackballed” from other related employment as “defendants have actively taken steps to prevent [him] from obtaining another job [by] … spreading rumors among the tightknit MDA community that Varshney committed a serious security violation, exposed classified information, took the call in a secured conference room during a meeting, permanently lost his security clearance, and/or can no longer work in any capacity for MDA. None of this is true.”

The suit states 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.