Kharchenko claims the company did nothing when she complained about her treatment, but she didn’t want to lose her job. Her termination came shortly after she filed a complaint asking for a right-to-sue with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Exigen has not responded to her charges but won a motion to compel arbitration, which is scheduled for January. However, Kharchenko’s attorney, Scott Bonagofsky, last week appealed that order and expects a decision within 30 days. He says his client, who is now unemployed, was forced to agree to arbitrate disputes to get hired. He also says his client wants a jury trial.
Now around 30, Kharchenko claims she was brought to San Francisco from the Ukraine on an H1-B visa after she applied for a job with Exigen in Moscow. She says she was housed with another young woman by Exigen in an apartment in Daly City, Calif., located just south of San Francisco.
Kharchenko’s 44-page complaint is graphic in parts, detailing long hours and a variety of alleged sexual indignities, mostly from Shenkman, but also from others at the firm.
She claims that: “Defendants Shenkman and Exigen appeared to be abusing the immigration visa system in order to procure a steady stream of young, eastern European women to satisfy Defendant Shenkman’s sexual desires. Once in the United States, these young women would find themselves tied to Exigen by their H-1B visas [which permit the visa holder to work only for the company through which they obtained the visa], trapped thousands of miles from home without families or friends, and at the mercy of a wealthy and influential sexual predator who does not know how to take ‘no’ for an answer. This environment at Exigen continues to the present day.”
Shenkman is a Russian immigrant who reportedly came to the United States as a teenager with his parents and worked as a dishwasher. He previously co-founded software company Genesys that he took public and sold to Alcatel for $1.9 billion. He then launched Exigen Group, Exigen Services and Exigen Capital.
He appears to be well connected in Russia. In 2002, Exigen participated in a Russian-American IT roundtable as part of a summit between Presidents Vladimir Putin and George Bush, according to InformationWeek, and there were plans for Exigen to create an IT research and development center at Moscow State University.
Shenkman has reportedly worked so hard that he was one of a several people profiled three years ago by “60 Minutes” for a story on Americans who work 24/7. He was interviewed by reporter Lesley Stahl at his house, standing in his shower, which is wired so that if his phone rings, the water turns off and Shenkman doesn’t miss a call.
Shenkman’s and Exigen’s attorneys—who include Kristen Dumont of Wilson Sonsini and Robert Feldman of Quinn Emanuel—didn’t return calls seeking comment on the lawsuit. —Deborah Gage