My question involves labor and employment law for the state of: New York
My ex-employer is threatening to sue me for fraud and demands all my wages back paid in 2008 and has been harassing me:
In 2008, I worked on H1B visa for a start up company A, during May 2008-August 2008. In July 2008 I received another job offer and resigned for a number of reasons, including company A demanding me to sign a 5-year non-compete clause 2 months after I joined which I was not aware off initially (I did not sign it and currently don't have a copy). Effectively, the only contact available as a result was job application for H1B visa, filed with Department of Labor, that looks like a plain vanilla at will employment, and did not have my signature. So I don't have any written contact with company A.
After I left, company demanded that I pay back H1B visa fees - I checked with attorneys and they said that company has to pay it by US law, so I refused (3.5K total). As a gesture, I sent company A check for 1000 USD for H1B premium processing fee, they did not accept it.
Now I work for company B, I have a green card. In November 2013, exactly on Thanksgiving, I received a demand letter from company A's lawyer demanding that again I pay back 3.5K of H1B visa fees plus 1.7K interest. I tried to settle and offer 1.5K, company A refused and filed small claim in NY for 3.5K based on "breach of contract and fraud". I was ready to go and defend myself. In addition, lawyer of company A forwarded to me a very assaulting (but legally edited) email from company A's president making fun of my income, my English, my degree (I have a PhD) and saying that "I explained to you before I hired you in 2008 that you could not shop around for other jobs " (again I was not aware of that until 2 months later after I joined when I saw that contract). In addition, lawyer of company A called company B's general counsel (using my mistake of sending him an email from corporate account) and I had to explain the whole situation to my company.
However, things got worse - exactly on Christmas I received another email from company A's lawyer saying that they are now in the process of withdrawing their small claim and in near future will file a larger claim (~25-30K) with NY Supreme Court demanding that I pay them back all wages they paid me back in 2008 due to "fraud". I could not sleep since - I don't see how they can be demanding wages I worked for and I clearly see that they are pushing me to pay first claim to avoid litigation cost, fears and time needed for larger claim defense.
I am completely scared and could not sleep for last 5 days but at the same time feel that this is a rather predatory tactics to make me pay money I don't owe plus impact my current job. Company A is known to pursue aggressive litigation and can spend unlimited amount of money on lawyers (I don't and litigation costs in a trial will likely be similar to total claim of 25-30K as I understand unless it stops at motion to dismiss/to summary judgement). I consulted 2-3 attorneys - with all evidence provided, they all saw first H1B claim as groundless given explicit US laws demanding companies to pay H1B visa fees, and potential second claim of all wages as bogus.
So - should I just try to pay first 3.5K claim to avoid litigation or just call their bluff? How can they even legally argue that I owe them wages for hours I actually worked for them full time according to Department of Labor approved job application, I have all pay stubs as well as email from them back from 2008 saying that "we have no issues with your job performance"? To me this is an implicit and well planned attempt to scare me, and now effectively extort money from me by putting me "in the corner".
Can I sue them instead for extortion and intimidation and potentially bias against a non-US employee? What other means do I have to protect myself - e.g. any agencies to complain? (I went to Department of Labor to complain but they said that stature of limitations is 12 months for them - I could not understand that as someone is suing me for wages paid back in 2008)