Netflix has been hit with a lawsuit that could make noise in one the world’s most populous countries. The complaint filed in Los Angeles comes from Nandini Mehta, a former director in the streamer’s business and legal affairs department. According to Mehta, she and other women of Indian origin were systematically discriminated against at Netflix. Her suit also raises an issue over the company’s international footprint with the suggestion of possible tax fraud. At one point, Mehta says she worried the streamer’s tax avoidance strategies would lead to a ban in India.
Mehta says she practiced law in India for almost 15 years when she began working in-house at Netflix in 2018. She says that in some respects, things went well during her two years at the company as she closed content deals, helped relationships with the creative community, and contributed to subscription growth in India.
“Unfortunately, these achievements would be largely overshadowed by the blatant discrimination and harassment that Mehta faced with the Company, and ultimately, the wrongful termination of her employment,” states the complaint.
A Netflix spokesperson responds that her suit has no merit and that she was fired over improper expenses.
Mehta says that in one-on-one meetings in Los Angeles, she’d put up with comments like “I didn’t think Indian women were allowed to dress like this” and her superior calling India a “shithole” that “makes everyone’s skin break-out.”
Eventually, Mehta also became upset after learning that while she was making $350K a year, her male peers in smaller markets were making between $700-800K a year. Her suit includes a claim under the California Equal Pay Act.
Besides relaying uncomfortable office conversations (like when she was told that one top female programming executive kept a job because “Ted [Sarandos] likes to look at her”), the discrimination and harassment complaint addresses some under-the-radar troubles that the company may be having on the sexual misconduct front. For instance, one investigation over #MeToo allegations against producers of Netflix’s most successful Indian show is said to have been steered “towards a seemingly favorable outcome for Netflix.”
Then, there’s the tax stuff.
In a very detailed 47-page complaint, Mehta’s lawyers at McLaughlin & Stern also write, “Within the first month of her onboarding, Mehta was also made aware of what she considered a racially driven tax memorandum, prepared by Netflix’s tax department, regarding Netflix’s existing Indian operations.”
The “Tax Memo” allegedly was meant to create a “facade” whereby Netflix wasn’t “permanently established” in India so as to avoid local tax liability. As a “regional” employee, Mehta says it was expected that she follow certain protocol and “blur the lines between Netflix US and Netflix India.”
Mehta says she knew the company already had a significant operation in India and she was concerned that efforts to play down its local presence would be illegal and expose the streamer to an operational ban in the country. She says she expressed worries to a superior only for the conversation to grow intense. She allegedly was told, “You don’t want to be one of those people.”
A few months into her tenure, she says she was moved to Los Angeles in apparent response to her concerns over the tax memo. She allegedly was forbidden from discussing the tax stuff and had to regularly travel between California and Mumbai.
Later, after an audit raised flags about was expensed to her corporate credit card, she was terminated for a pattern of non-business expenses. She’s now claiming that her termination was in part retaliation for her objections to the tax memo.
A statement from Netflix reads: “Ms. Mehta was fired for repeatedly using her corporate credit card for personal expenses. Her claims, including the accusations directed at current Netflix employees, are categorically untrue, and we are confident they will be found to be totally lacking in merit.”