Thursday, December 4, 2008

NY Restaurant Owners Arrested

Saigon_grill Stephen Greenhouse at the New York Times is reporting on the recent arrests of the owners of Saigon Grill, a popular group of Manhattan restaurants.  The arrests stem from charges of falsifying records and tampering with evidence involved in a long-running litigation between the restaurants and its workers.  The list of wage and hour violations looks like something an evil professor cooked up for an employment law exam, with some labor law thrown in for good measure (no comments from my students please--remember that I haven't graded the exams yet):

The prosecution of the Ngets was led by the office of Andrew M. Cuomo, the state attorney general. An official in that office said the Ngets were charged with 151 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree with regard to wage violations, 45 counts of tampering with physical evidence and 46 counts of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree. . . .

For nearly two years, Saigon Grill has been locked in a battle over wage violations with its deliverymen and their supporters, with picketing in front of the restaurants and allegations that Saigon Grill had illegally fired its deliverymen for asserting their rights.

In October, a federal judge awarded $4.6 million in back pay and damages to 36 delivery workers at two Saigon Grill restaurants in Manhattan, after finding blatant and systematic violations of minimum-wage and overtime laws.

Magistrate Judge Michael H. Dolinger of United States District Court in Manhattan found that Saigon Grill and the Ngets often did not pay their deliverymen for all the hours they worked and often made illegal deductions from their pay.

The judge found that the restaurants had paid $520 a month to many deliverymen who worked more than 260 hours each month. This meant that their pay came to less than $2 an hour, far less than the federal and state minimum wage. . . .

In the trial, the deliverymen, all immigrants from Fujian Province in China, testified that they were required to work 11 to 13 hours a day, usually six days a week. But their employers testified that the deliverymen had to work only at peak delivery times: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Judge Dolinger found that the company had often illegally deducted pay, from $20 to $200, when deliverymen committed infractions like letting the restaurant door slam on their way out or failing to log in a delivery. The case covered wage violations from 1999 to 2007.

Last February, a judge with the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Saigon Grill had illegally fired 28 deliverymen nearly a year earlier and should reinstate them. The labor board judge found that the firings constituted illegal retaliation to punish the workers’ plans to file their lawsuit over wage violations.

It's nice to see arrests because of employment law violations rather than immigration violations.  The New York AG's office has had a long history of going after problems in the workplace and it looks like that's not going to change for a while.

Hat Tip:  Dennis Walsh


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Big props to my old buddy Ken Kimerling of the Asian American Legal Defense Fund for litigating this case so well; he's doing a lot of good beating up on those among New York's many Asian restaurants that shortchange their immigraqnt workers. Were Ken to shave off his grey ponytail (which won't happen), he'd be a bang-up candidate for state Attorney General himself!

Posted by: Scott Moss | Dec 5, 2008 3:57:24 PM

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