SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, CA - Sunny Bhatia says he could not believe what he was reading: The woman who was treated like family and employed to help cook, claimed in a court filing that his parents mistreated her. Though never adequately investigated by the Department of Labor, the salacious story still made headlines.
According to press agencies, on Aug. 22 Sheela Ningwal, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against the Bhatias seeking damages for unpaid wages and overtime. “It is a recorded fact that Sheela Ningwal was properly paid,” says Navneet S. Chugh, of Chugh, LLP, the attorneys representing the Bhatias. “In our scattered correspondence with the Department of Labor, we were certain this case was fabricated. The additional wild claims such as making Ms. Ningwal sleep with dogs and confiscating her passport were never uttered in our meetings with the Department of Labor. We first saw those when they were published in the press,” he continued. “I can tell you the Bhatia’s provided one of the best bedrooms in the house to Ms. Ningwal and they never confiscated her passport.” “The press agencies reported on the complaint which is filled with innuendos, false claims, and lies,” says Chugh. “You need a magnifying glass that converts lies into truths to find one true allegation in the complaint,” Chugh adds.
“It is a reckless, malicious complaint filed to extort money out of a decent and respected family,” observed Chugh.
The press agencies reported that Ms. Ningwal came from India to work for the Bhatias, but Chugh says that is not true. Chugh goes on to talk about another false allegation that Ms. Ningwal worked 14 hours and was asked to sleep in the garage, saying that neither statement was true. The complaint alleges that Ms. Ningwal was paid $400 per month; however, Chugh asserts “she was consistently paid $1,800 per month.”
“The Bhatias didn’t even subtract the legally allowed $500 per month of meals and lodging that a household employer can adjust against a household worker’s salary so understandably they feel betrayed,” Chugh adds. “The complaint has no merits whatsoever, and we are 100% confident that the complaint will be thrown out in due time.”
“We treated her like family, with utmost decency, and repeatedly did what we could to accommodate Sheela’s requests,” said daughter Sabina Bhatia. “My mom would cook for Sheela when she was sick.” Sabina adds, “We would arrange for her to be taken to doctor appointments, pick up medicine, run errands. We helped her purchase a vehicle, laptop, cellular phones, taught her how to drive a car, and took her on paid vacations.” “I have been to the Bhatia’s residence on several occasions when Ms. Sheela Ningwal was present,” says Shelly Kohli, a close family friend. “I always saw Ms. Ningwal being treated with much respect by the whole Bhatia family. On one occasion, I was present for lunch at the Bhatia’s residence in San Juan Capistrano and after serving us, Ms. Ningwal retired to her room to rest and the room she was using was the main downstairs guest room.”
Says another family friend, Sonia McTaggard-Anderson: “She [Ms. Ningwal] was treated with the utmost kindness and respect from the family, friends and relatives. She was invited to join us for dinner on numerous occasions, and when she declined to join us, Sue [Himanshu Bhatia] always suggested that Ms. Ningwal have her meal “while it was still hot.”
Amber Kueck, an associate, had this to say about the Bhatias, “I could not be more grateful for the way the Bhatias have made me feel valued as a human and associate. This goes beyond any expectations, and speaks to the character of Himanshu & her entire family.”
“It is shocking and disappointing that you try to help a fellow human being and she does this,” remarks Gulab Bhatia.